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Mike Bracco, a teacher at P.S. 30 in the Bronx, worked with teaching artists from Chekhov on "Her Seven Brothers", a Cheyenne Indian story by Paul Goble. "My class worked wonderfully as an ensemble," he says. "They surprised themselves and felt great about it. Teamwork, self-esteem, hidden talents all became evident."
Maria Palma, arts coordinator for District 31 in Staten Island, saw tremendous changes once theatre was added to her classroom. "Academically, my class is the lowest functioning class in the school," she explains. Crediting Chekhov with enabling her students to focus more on their school work, she cites one particular child "who was a huge discipline problem and was unable to stick to any academic task. He was riveted during the Chekhov production of Macbeth and is thrilled to be participating in the program. He has become a model student since this program began."
Sixth graders at Herricks Middle School in Albertson, Long Island also took Shakespeare to the boards in a version of Macbeth where all the students worked as a choral team, providing security for the students when reciting, and easing any stage-fright. "You learn that people years ago had the same feelings as they do now," says Ann Abraham, a student at the school. "This program teaches you what people were like a long time ago and makes you think about how things were. It's almost like learning history, even though it's not a social studies class."
Teachers and administrators credit Chekhov's success to the quality of its teaching staff, beginning with artistic director Floyd Rumohr. "He's so good with kids," says Dr. Farnham, noting that some people can give a good presentation, but just don't have the ability to work well in the classroom.
Rumohr and his staff carefully select the teaching artists who work with the students at the various schools. "We try to find people with an inner light," explains Rumohr, a tall, graceful man who himself bursts with the energy of a Macy's fireworks display. They all share his charisma, enthusiasm and a love of children. And they also share the goal of finding and nurturing the child whose worth is not measured by tests.
"The reason we want to participate in the education dialogue is because we want to participate in the educational assessment dialogue," he explains. "That a child who is able to intuit, empathize, visualize, speak with clarity, move with grace, sequence ..." he trails off then asks, "Those are not the aspects of being a whole human being?"
While tests don't measure it and some say the arts are just an option, Floyd Rumohr counters with the fact that the entertainment and enlightenment available in music, movies, and television is something every human being turns to in some form every single day, for joy, for relief, for soothing, for information, for human connection. "I'm not a sociologist. I can't prove to you that if children spent more time creating beauty they're less likely to destroy it," he states, "but I can tell you that it's a true statement."
The Chekhov Theatre Company can be contacted at their website, www.chekhovtheatre.org or by calling their office at (718) 398-2494.