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Teens and elementary students all learn while teaming up for stage production
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Students from Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy fill the stage at North Hall High School for a production of “101 Dalmatians.” - photo by Tom Reed

Nothing is cuter than a room full of dalmatian puppies ... unless of course they elementary students dressed up as puppies.

The students at North Hall High School teamed up with Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy students to put on a production of the musical "101 Dalmatians" Thursday evening at the high school.

Several of the elementary school cast members have special needs.

Jan Ewing, theater instructor at North Hall, said the inspiration for the project came in part from her son, a student at Wauka Mountain who has autism.

Laney Park, a second-grade teacher at Wauka Mountain, said one of the stipulations for the play was to make sure any students with special needs knew they were welcome and encouraged to participate.

Ewing said once she knew she had the help of some students and her student teacher they decided to take on the project of directing the show with the children. Some of the student directors have prior experience working with young children and those with special needs.

While some students might have different challenges than others, they all shared one thing: the excitement of being on the "big stage."

Park said she was glad the students got the opportunity to experience working on a larger scale production.

"It’s just not an experience that many kids at our school have ever done before. If (Jan Ewing) hadn’t brought it to us to do they wouldn’t have had that experience," Park said.

Park, who performed on the North Hall stage in high school herself, said being in a play teaches students very valuable life lessons, such as how to work together and gain confidence.

"We had some kids that were too nervous to want to try out," Park said. "The high schoolers talked to them and told them not to be nervous, to just do it. I’ve definitely seen some kids kind of come out of their shell with it."

Fifth-grader Maddie Peck prepared alongside her castmates during the dress rehearsal. She admitted she felt a little nervous.

"I’m kind of embarrassed because I’m like one of the main parts," Peck said.

Her friend, third-grader Sydney Parks, said she wasn’t at all nervous; she’d been through this sort of thing before with violin and choir recitals. But she understood exactly what Peck was going through.

"I tried out for (the part of) Cruella, but I was too nervous so I didn’t get it," Parks said.

Both girls were excited to be able to show off their talents as narrators and singers.

The elementary students weren’t the only ones learning life skills. The older students used the production as a chance to hone their technical crew skills.

In the process, they learned a bit more than they’d planned for.

Katlin Dunn, a senior at North Hall, said the experience has been "eye-opening." Dunn oversaw much of the choreography and helped to "loosen" the students up before practice.

"I’ve never really worked with little kids a lot," Dunn said. "But now that I have I really enjoy them. They’re really fun to work with. The passion they have for things unknown is really inspiring."

Dunn admits keeping the young children focused was a bit of a challenge.

Though keeping 70 young children in line would be difficult even for professionals, Ewing said her students have been "awesome."

"They love the little kids and adore them and also get frustrated by the ones who ask a lot of questions," Ewing said. "Overall they have been great through the process and have taken it on as teachers themselves."

Six teachers from Wauka Mountain helped to keep the production running smoothly as well.

Dunn said the experience has been great for her since she intends to major in musical theater next year at college.

But Dunn said she’s gained much more than just the experience of wrangling busy children and choreographing and directing a show. She has learned to look a bit more closely at the world around her.

"I learned to enjoy every little aspect of everything you do, and just every time you look at something and you feel like its dull, try to get a new take on it because there is something there that you’re not seeing." Dunn said.

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