The Creative Lives of Children

School Play: A Professional Development Package (DVD)
72-minute DVD + study guide
By EyePop Productions
(Stenhouse Publishers, 2012 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Lyn Hilt

School Play, a documentary by Eddie Rosenstein and Rick Velleu, captures the essence of imagination, the rewards of hard work, and the demands of childhood. While viewing the film I giggled, cried, pondered the role of creative arts in elementary schools today, and longed to be eight years old again, reenacting scenes from The Wizard of Oz with my two younger brothers in our family’s living room.

The film follows closely the experiences of five children — fourth and fifth graders whose elementary school careers are soon ending — each of whom land a role in the school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. As the characters were introduced, I associated their stories with former students. We’ve all known and loved these children: the overachiever, the class clown, the misunderstood outcast, the wanna-be-actor, and the precocious young actress.

What so compels the viewer to continue watching a film about an elementary school production is the way the filmmakers spend time spotlighting the children as individuals. You grow to know and appreciate each child’s unique gifts.

The children

As an elementary school principal I spend a lot of time with the “Jeffries” of the world. A young man who is brazen, loud, sometimes defiant, an outcast, and a troublemaker. He tells the cameras “a lot of the kids don’t like me, and they bother me.” Will the play be a way for him to develop new friendships? His mother, who continues to support him, seems to think so. One of my favorite aspects of the film was the reemergence of Jeffrey’s dad in his life through his volunteerism with the production. It’s clear that family involvement is encouraged throughout the production and students who experience success have a strong support system at home.

You also meet Joey, the class clown and “troublemaker,” an amusing young man who uses theater as an outlet for his creative energies. Nick admits he wants to pursue acting because he loves when he can perform for people, and says “I do break off from the mainstream because I don’t want to be like everyone else.”

Isabel is an overachiever, a perfectionist, and a student with whom others enjoy spending their time. She is cast in the play’s lead role as Dorothy, and through the film you are able to witness the anxieties that even a gifted young child feels when faced with the pressures to perform to a certain standard. Elizabeth, the youngest student featured, is a natural performer who enjoys dress-up (and makeup) and losing herself in her imagination.

The production

As you begin to watch rehearsals, you quickly come to realize that bringing this performance to life is no easy feat. The director reflects that many children won’t know what their inclusion in the production means at the start of the process, but they sure realize it when it’s over. She emphasizes the need to think about the children as young adult performers, and never to underestimate what they can do.

The director, music teacher, and all adults involved in the production stress the importance of hard work and dedication to task. This is more easily achieved by some students than others. At one point during rehearsals the entire group is addressed and issued a warning that if the students’ work is not taken more seriously, the production may not go on. You can probably guess how students respond to this type of feedback, but for each performer the learning and reflection process is a very personal one.


Using School Play in PD settings

Accompanying the documentary is a School Play Study Guide (Stenhouse, 2012) which provides resources for school administrators and teachers to use when planning to include the viewing of the film in professional development. The guide provides a context through which to view the film as well as an explanation of the film’s relevance, requiring participants to activate their thinking about the content and themes they’re about to view.

The guide also provides a helpful workshop schedule. Discussion groups are included as part of the day’s schedule, and the guide creators offer a discussion tool adapted from the “Save the Last Word for ME” protocol developed by Patricia Averette through the National School Reform Faculty. This protocol is helpful to ensure all participants are given an equal voice in the discussion and can build off of one another’s ideas.

The guide provides event organizers with workshop topics that can be tailored to school needs, complete with resources and recommended readings. Topics include Knowing Children, Keeping It Real: Creating Authentic Learning Opportunities, Building Our Repertoires: Matching Responses to Children and Situations, and Involving Parents to Promote Student Learning.

No matter what your needs and reasons for including School Play in your school’s professional development sessions, the accompanying study guide provides organizers with the quality resources to do so.

A celebration of creative arts

School Play is not just a film about an elementary school dramatic production. It helps to celebrate the importance of the infusion of creative arts opportunities for all students. It allows you to understand the differences among the lives of children and the ways their unique gifts combine to create an entertaining, heartfelt production.

It makes you long for your childhood, because, as the film closes, a student reminds us, “I don’t want to throw my whole childhood away. When I’m older I’ll regret doing that, because I won’t ever get to do it again.”

Lyn Hilt is principal of Brecknock Elementary School, located in beautiful Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The K-6 school community is comprised of enthusiastic student learners, dedicated staff, and supportive parents. Lyn has an affinity for educational technologies and infusing 21st century skills into the curriculum. Before becoming a principal, she taught grades 5 and 6, served as an elementary technology teacher, and coached field hockey. She blogs from time to time at The Principal’s Posts, at Voices from the Learning Revolution, and at Connected Principals.


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