It all started when the Harley Avenue Primary School staff decided to cancel the yearly kindergarten musical. It’s long been a tradition at this Elmwood, N.Y., school and many parents were understandably unhappy. So much so that one parent even started an online petition to restore the performance.
The interim principal then sent out a memo that had the same effect as pouring water on a grease fire. The pompous memo, written in fluent bureaucratese, said, in part: “The reason for eliminating the kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, co-workers and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.”
We’re not talking about high school seniors on the cusp of taking on real world responsibilities. These are 5-year-olds. They still need help getting their shoes on the right feet.
I’m no educator. But I was once a drama mama. I know all about creating “strong readers, writers, co-workers and problem-solvers.” One of the best ways to do that is through activities like the one they just cancelled.
Our daughter Rachel made her first stage appearance in the Joyce Corley/Debra Looper-led Mount Vernon Elementary Kindergarten production of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” She was cast as the narrator. I remember her proudly announcing, “I got the part because I can sort of read. There are lots of lines.”
The performance took place in a classroom filled with parents wedged into tiny chairs. It was in the antediluvian days before iPhones so we all had clunky camcorders. Most of them recorded on media requiring players that are now obsolete.
The particulars of the actual performance are hazy to me. There have been so many subsequent plays and recitals and competitions and extravaganzas that they all start to merge together in my mind. But when I asked Rachel about that particular play, she recalled every detail.
She talked about how, as the narrator, she was the only character without a costume. So she wouldn’t feel left out, her teachers had her wear butterfly wings. She talked about all the practice and hard work that went into pulling the play together. She talked about the fear and subsequent exhilaration of speaking for the first time in front of people who weren’t her parents or classmates.
She can pinpoint the moment she realized how much she loved performing. It was when she took her bow to the applause of that classroom full of parents. That moment propelled her into years of plays and oratorical contests, through leadership roles in clubs and organizations to an International Baccalaureate diploma and a Zell Miller Scholarship. She’s now in college and, while not a theater major, she uses those same skills every day.
Hear me now, all you wonks at Harley Avenue Primary School. You’ll never get this kind of epiphany from a day spent huddled over work sheets.
Again, I’m no educator, but Kyle Shook most certainly is. He was leaving North Hall High School when Rachel entered it. He graduated from Mercer and now teaches language arts at a high school in New York City. Soon he will move on to his next stage of life when he goes to Poland as a Fulbright Scholar.
Yes, the guy has creds. And here’s what he had to say about the play’s cancelation: ”So much of what college and career readiness means must be learned in less academic environments. I equally remember learning just as valuable skills in studio art and drama. Students need things like the arts, sports, and extracurriculars to learn what it means to be human. ... Yet sadly this is what happens when we let big business turn our children into numbers so that states can be held hostage for federal funds. Students prepare for college and careers just as much outside of the classroom as they do inside of it and it is scandalous to see something so valuable as public performance taken away from students at any age in the name of preparing for ‘college and careers.’”
I’ll let Rachel have the last word: “All your life, whenever you do something silly, people are quick to remind you that you’re not in kindergarten anymore. Now it seems like even kindergarten isn’t kindergarten.”
And that’s a damn shame.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.