By Linda White
Lane School fourth grade students, 180 voices strong, singing lively sea chanteys and songs in German, Italian, Russian and English, dressed in period costumes from four immigrant groups, performing intricate dances, sharing journal entries about immigrant experiences in front of a standing room only crowd of parents and friends on a very warm afternoon and having a good time? It was exactly what you might expect of a professional performance of Revels, and it was exactly what the audience saw and appreciated.
“I just wanted to let you know that I truly enjoyed the performance on Friday, and as a parent and former teacher … I was quite impressed and proud that my child was given this incredible opportunity.” Bedford parent comment.
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Images (c) Kristen Mattson, 2016 all rights reserved
Veteran fourth grade teacher Noelle Elien has been at Lane School for more than 20 years and is no stranger to the Revels experience, its values of cultural exploration, participation, connection, tradition and celebration. She has been a Revels performer in the past. Seeking a way to make Social Studies come alive and provide students with a unique experience to better understand and appreciate the 1870’s experience of the many immigrant populations who made their way across the Atlantic Ocean, she consulted with Revels educational coordinators to customize a program for Lane fourth grade students.
“In my opinion, this type of education is invaluable. I can’t even tell you how excited my son was every day he worked with the Revels, in particular David Coffin. My son thinks he’s a real sailor. … He learned so much about the immigrant experience, but to him it was just fun. I hope that you continue this in the coming years and all the children get the chance to experience how fun this type of learning can be!” Bedford parent comment.
Last fall Elien submitted a grant application to the Bedford Education Foundation (BEF) on behalf of the eight fourth grade classrooms, requesting funding for an intensive one-week Revels onsite training geared to the Lane fourth grade social studies curriculum and Common Core goals. BEF co-presidents, Meg McAllister and Jennifer Kelley reported, “We knew immediately that the grant request was a unique and creative opportunity to make a difference in the academic experience of an entire grade level. The Grant Committee decision was unanimous, and the grant was awarded full funding.”
“I am grateful to the BEF for providing this invaluable experience. I will continue to support them as the families of Bedford truly benefit from their efforts! … What a win-win for the students! My son was completely engaged in the experience, which was huge for him, and he did a great job. He really grew from the experience, as I think
all of the students did. I was so inspired that we have just made a donation to BEF. Please pass this message along to those who brought the experience to Lane.” Bedford parent comment.
Planning and coordination among the fourth grade classroom teachers (Amy Campbell, Megan Leonard, Allison Colpoys, Megan Farrell, Julia Herman, Edna Lee, Jamie Love and Elien) and Jane Del Gobbo, fourth grade special education teacher, took place over the winter months with Revels Artist in Residence, David Coffin, and Revels Education Director, Emily Williams. Students and teachers began a journey of exploration of their assigned immigrant group and learned from the other groups as well.
“I was so impressed today! What a great show. After 14 years of having students in BPS I have to say that this was the performance where ALL the students appeared engaged and delighted to be in the performance. I can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed it in every way. Thank you!” Bedford parent comment.
Preparatory assignments included geography to understand how each group made their way to Liverpool to board the ship for America. Using mathematic skills, students calculated the size of the ship, how much space each family would be allotted and how a family of six might fit into one double bunk and one twin bunk. Measurement skills were utilized to walk the Lane School parking lot for a mile and experience how heavy a backpack with your life’s treasures became after walking a mile. Students followed the ship’s guidelines and measured how much food each family group would be allocated and how much might be consumed each day of the journey to ensure there would be sufficient food to last the voyage. Measurement skills were also employed to prepare food items that each group traditionally brought on board for their journey that would survive the journey and hopefully be edible until reaching Ellis Island. Irish soda bread, German pretzels and Italian mustasole cookies were among the items made by the students.
“Leading up to the show, it was nice to see my daughter’s enthusiasm and investment as she prepared her costume and filled our home with the sounds of the tarantella! Bedford parent comment.
Writing skills were sharpened by each student’s effort to keep a diary of what their imagined family might be reporting about the journey. Students each made a diary with paper they dyed to resemble the paper of the time. Prompts sparked student thought and creativity, i.e. “When did you learn you were going to America? What are the logistics of getting from your country of origin to Liverpool and the boat that will take you to America? What socio/economic factors will impact your move and new home? What is the emotional impact for you and your family making this journey? How will you manage communication in the new land? What do you expect to find when you get to America? What are you feeling on the voyage?”
The eight fourth grade classrooms were paired and each pair represented one of the four countries studied. With only one week on site, David Coffin taught students the words and melodies of songs of each country as well as ensemble numbers. Lane language arts teachers also helped with pronunciation of the new languages. Elien commented, “David Coffin’s contagious level of enthusiasm, terrific voice, professionalism and general charisma turned even the most reluctant student into a Revels veteran. Emily Williams was invaluable in her attention to period detail, providing background stories and information to each group and classroom, assisting students in the construction of their costumes and providing just about anything else we needed for the students to be successfully immersed in the immigrant experience.”
“We absolutely loved the immigration show. We love the way Lane School encourages kids to be creative and puts energy on what really matters in life. Thank you for your leadership on all these.” Bedford parent comment.
Speaking on behalf of the fourth grade teachers, Elien summarized “As teachers, we are so pleased that we had 100 percent student participation. Revels provided an opportunity for students to explore all of their abilities, hidden talents and skill sets. I was pleasantly surprise to see kids who may not routinely excel in the classroom have an opportunity to be in the spotlight and shine with pride for their performance and a sense of passion for what they accomplished and learned. We are also grateful for Bedford’s unwavering support of our schools, appreciation of the value of the arts and the connection song and dance have to culture and diversity.”
“I thought that the Revels performance was FANTASTIC and that it was nothing short of a miracle that the group pulled the entire fourth grade together in one week for such an amazing performance.” Bedford parent comment.
Bravo! to all the fourth grade performers and those who recently made the immigration experience come alive at Lane School.
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Revels, a unique blend of theatre, music, dance and celebratory traditions that build connections between diverse people and cultures, originated in Cambridge in 1971 and has grown to nine locations across the country. To learn more about their history, performances and educational programs, please visit https://www.revels.org/about-revels .