Drama in Crossroads classrooms
Shaw actor Guy Bannerman reads The Hockey Sweater to young students at Crossroads Public School, part of an Actors in the Classroom program that has professionals teaching drama skills to students. Photo supplied
It's a small program that grew.
This year, each of the 22 classes and 550 students at Crossroads Public School had the benefit of professional actors teaching them drama skills and passing along their love of theatre.
The program began at Parliament Oak School, with retired teacher and volunteer Marie Lapointe organizing Actors in the Classroom and inviting Shaw professionals into the Old Town school to work with the kids.
When the school closed and the majority of the students now at Crossroads, parent council member Joy Janzen, one of the former Parliament Oak parents, introduced the concept at a parent council meeting. Crossroads parent and council member Phil Leboudec jumped on it, and very quickly the council agreed to sponsor it, said Janzen, with Lapointe again co-ordinating it.
Guy Bannerman was one of the Shaw professionals who signed on willingly.
With his daughters now 18 and 21, he doesn't get the opportunity to read to them anymore, so he's happy to go into the classroom to entertain, and hopefully educate young students, he says.
Lapointe chose one of her favourite books, The Hockey Sweater, a short story by Canadian author Roch Carrier, for Bannerman. He reads it wearing a Chicago Black Hawks sweater with his name on it, given to him by a friend, but Lapointe always makes sure her Montreal Canadiens hockey sweater helps set the scene for the iconic tale about kids in Quebec for whom hockey played on an outdoor rink is an obsession, and the real-life rivalry between the Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Although Bannerman grew up in Toronto he was always a Canadiens fan, he says, and loves the story.
He read the book to four classes of Grade 1 and 2 students, and then Jenny Wright, also a Shaw actor, had the kids sit in a circle and make up a story, each one around the circle addicting to it when their turn came.
Their enjoyment and confidence grew as the story continued, said Bannerman.
He was glad to see the program continue at Crossroads, he said.
"It's always good to go into a school in your community and entertain, and educate if you can."
"Guy truly is an amazing storyteller, but more amazing is how quickly he identified that several of the children in both classes had limited English comprehension. He incorporated both German and French in his stories - I was impressed," says Janzen, who was there to observe. "The kids absolutely light up to hear their mother-tongue language and he gained their absolute full attention."
Lapointe worked with the teachers' and actors' schedules, and ensured the sessions were curriculum-matched to the grade receiving instruction, said Janzen.
"Fortunately, the school principal, Troy Wallace, and staff at Crossroads have been very supportive."
Although the classroom sessions end this month, Lapointe isn't finished - she's working with the Shaw to organize prop shop tours for the older kids and the opportunity to see Alice in Wonderland at the Shaw when the show opens up in May.
Having Lapointe active in the Crossroads school community is a real blessing, says Janzen.
"She was an important part of the family closeness that made Parliament Oak special because she has a community builder personality. She is always smiling, offering words of encouragement, and assuming the role of a high energy cheerleader."
Grade 4 teacher Josh Bateson is also a fan of the program.
"When students are given drama instruction by the same person who, moments before, was teaching French pronouns or equivalent fractions, a certain amount of ethos is lost. I was so delighted to have Shaw actor Jenny Wright come and conduct a movement workshop with my students," said Bateson.
Many of the students recognized her from her role in last summer's Peter and the Star Catchers, winning her instant credibility and admiration, he said.
"Student reaction to having a professional actor work with with them was amazing. There was an exciting buzz in our room for days. I loved the energy. I loved the professionalism. I loved the conversations that were sparked."
Wright says it was a delight to be invited into the classrooms.
"The kids and teachers were all so welcoming. What a great opportunity to connect with youth in my own community. I know a lot of these young folks so the experience as artist in the classroom was particularly gratifying. I loved watching them access their imaginations. They created gorgeous shapes and movement with their bodies."
There was only one problem with the Crossroads program, said Bateson - and that is that they didn't get enough of it.
"Jenny was an absolute gem. Bravo!"