Monthly Archives: April 2014

Middle Schoolers/ Punks with Potential

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Fine, so middle schoolers aren't really punks per se, but they are a rambunctious lot no doubt. In our local area, middle school is 6th – 8th grade. Our school has high rankings and great comments on all the various websites you use to learn about local schools. We live in a suburban area with an ethnically and financially diverse population. The middle school only offers very few electives: choir, band, and art/tech. Shop classes were cut years ago, which is a travesty. Because of the lack of choices, each program has tons if students, many of whom are not really interested in the class they are taking. And isn't that the purpose of electives, to learn more about topics you are interested in apart from the core academic classes? Choir is full of kids who don't like to sing, but wanted to take the easiest class.

Dealing with classes full of unmotivated kids all day can be very draining. I feel bad for the teachers who must be constantly frustrated. I think over time, teachers lose some of the cock-eyed optimism and motivation they started with. They get to the point of doing what they have to do to get the kids through the class, and nothing more. I don't blame them. No one can swim upstream forever.

The middle school had absolutely no drama program, no class, no club, nothing. The high school offers drama classes and puts on productions, but the program is not huge, well-supported, or well attended. Part of the problem is that incoming freshmen have no knowledge, experience, or excitement to join drama. They arrive from middle school completely ignorant of what drama can offer. It should not be this way! Freshmen should be knocking down the doors to join the drama club and take drama classes. So how can we make it happen?

Myself and two other parents decided to do something about it. We got involved in the choir program and built up some money through the choir boosters. Then we approached the choir teacher to ask for his support. We had to convince him that we were going to do all of the work and take on the burden, but we needed a faculty sponsor to make it official. With some trepidation, he agreed. He had wanted to do something for years, but it is just way too much work and energy for one person.

With his cooperation, we got approval from the school and began planning. It took an entire school year to plant the seeds to actually do the show this year. We chose a show, Oklahoma, and scheduled information meetings and auditions. We advertised through choir, word of mouth, and posters. On our information meeting day, we showed up nervous that the room would be empty. But it wasn't! In fact, it was packed with excited and energized students. Audition day arrived and over fifty kids showed up. Fifty kids were excited to be a part of something new, unique, and challenging. We couldn't believe it. It was really happening!

We sent home information to parents and tried to prep them for just how big of a commitment a full scale production can be. We understood that many students and parents wouldn't believe it until they experienced it, so we prepared ourselves for complaints and long conversations. Winter break came and went and it was time to start rehearsals. We had cast everyone who tried out to give the experience to the largest number of kids. It wasn't easy to set our cast. Middle school boys have higher voices and are much shorter then middle school girls. Our lead boys were at least a foot shorter than their lead girl counterparts. And we only had six boys try out, so our options were few. By rehearsal time, we had already lost around fifteen kids. How many more would we lose before it was over?

We decided as directors to set our expectations high. These kids were brand new and had no idea what their limitations were, so why set them low? Make them believe they could do whatever we taught them and then put in the work to get them there. It wasn't easy, but we worked and worked until slowly they began to get it. Kids who claimed they couldn't dance were doing dance steps, and kids who were terrified of being on stage were acting and singing. Teachers and administrators would peek their head into the cafeteria during practices and many commented they were amazed at what we had gotten the kids to do. How did we do it? By expecting nothing less. We had the advantage of coming into the school at the end of the day when the teachers were worn out. We were fresh and ready to go.

No one will ever acuse middle schoolers of focusing too much! They constantly had to be brought back and refocused. They find it physically impossible to go more than 30 seconds without talking. They can't go more than 30 minutes without checking their phones. They can look you in the eyes while you talk to them and not know anything you said when you ask them to repeat it back. But they believe they can do anything. They want to learn and want to do well.

Time went on and we needed help. Parents stepped up and volunteered to help with sets, costumes, publicity, etc. things starting rolling as the clock ticked down to show time. Many parents commented on how impressed they were. But we still had our unbelievers. Some parents complained about the time commitment, pulled their kids out of crucial rehearsals, and refused to volunteer. We had to just carry on. We weren't going to let a few ornery parents derail our hard work. On the night before we opened, we had a parent storm into rehearsal to tell us how things were going to be as he proceeded to tell us no one will care because it was only a little middle school show anyway. After resisting the urge to fight back and punch him in the nose, we finished the conversation and he went on his way. I turned to my fellow directors and we agreed we would have the last laugh after he actually saw the show. Let it be noted that he had never done one thing to help.

Opening night was a huge success! People loved it! Proud parents gushed in amazement. Teachers couldn't believe it was their students on the stage. We had a show, a real live honest to goodness show! We packed the house. We had a short run, three shows over one weekend, but it was a huge success. The cast members didn't want it to end. Parents who had been conspicuously absent suddenly appeared asking what they could do to help. Our irate dad offered his version of an apology by expressing how good the show was. Everyone was asking what show we are going to do next year.

So how does this article fit on a DIY blog? People love to complain about problems, but very few people stand up to do something about it. If your kid's school is lacking a certain program, find out a way you can make it happen. The only way our middle school was ever going to put on a play was if we jumped in and did it. If your neighborhood is boring because no one knows each other, plan a neighborhood BBQ. If a local park is dirty, organize a clean-up day. After the show, we sent out a survey to parents to try and improve our process for next year. One respondent said she showed up to volunteer once, but because it was so unorganized, she decided to never volunteer again. That is the lamest excuse I have ever heard! She obviously saw a need. Instead of walking away, she could have stepped up to organize our volunteer efforts, thus solving her issue and greatly helping the show. Sometimes “someone else” is actually you. If it needs to get done, jump in and do it yourself. You'll ensure it gets done, and you can make sure it is done right.