Laurel Tree Charter School first opened its doors in 1993. Brenda started it for her children and we've been looking for ways to create the education we want for all our kids ever since. We've grown from 17 students that first year to 110. In that time, theater has been one of the most powerful tools we've found to improve reading, increase understanding, and foster collaboration. Even though we're a small school, we want each of our students to have a big opportunity to perform and attend great theater.
Theater is hands-on language arts. When they're up on their feet and acting it out, students gain a deep understanding of the text. When students read their lines over and over to memorize them, their reading fluency skyrockets. Theater works for readers of all ability ranges. Great readers act alongside students who can barely read at all - and both can shine. Students who have a hard time sitting still, kinesthetic learners, and students who are focused on social engagement can all be successful in theater.
Theater provides access to rich ideas, historical background, and great literature for all students. Not all our students have the skills to read Shakespeare or a classic novel on their own, but they can all be exposed to and immersed in those classics through acting them out on stage. All our students can have animated discussions on the motivations of the characters, the themes the author is using, and the message he or she conveying in play. All our students can learn the historical background of a play in order to understand the characters they are playing and the world those characters inhabit.
Theater builds community and teaches collaboration. Middle school and high school is all about social interactions. Theater is a perfect way to harness that drive and use it to teach students how to work as a team, to think on their feet, to stretch their boundaries, and to use their creativity. These skills help students grow as individuals while building our school community.
Theater with kids is just plain magical. Sitting in the audience, watching student-actors shine, knowing how hard they worked and what obstacles they overcame to do the fabulous job they're doing - that's magic. Studying a play and then seeing it performed live by the Oregon Shakespeare Company, and watching the students really get it - that takes my breath away.
Personal experiences with theater have the power to change the way students think about reading, writing, and their own abilities. We're working to give this gift to each student.
Education is more than making sure all students cover the state mandated curriculum. It's providing opportunity and experiences for all students. You never know what idea, event or experience will spark something in a student and lead him or her to discover an inner talent or passion.
In the eighteen years we have been taking students to see shows at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and in the twelve years we have been producing shows of our own, I've seen some magical things unfold for our students through theater.