By Mindy Ragan Wood, Staff Writer – Reading, writing, and arithmetic are not the only courses that make a well-rounded education for students.
Judith Dinkel is putting all adolescent drama to good use at the Yukon Middle School where her seventh and eighth grade students engage in theatre, choir, and vocal music. The eighth-grade class will perform a musical, Cinderella, in March at the Fine Arts center.
The 37-year teaching veteran said most students don’t come to class excited about a musical because they feel very self-conscious around their peers.
“Musicals are lost on these kids until you show them how fun they are. At first it takes some reassurance and the opening scene is a large group performance which makes them feel more comfortable. You have to reassure them that this is a safe place. I don’t want to take them out of their comfort zone, but I do want to expand it,” Dinkel said. “Almost all of them are hooked in by the end of the semester.”
Performing arts brings together many subjects and gives students a place to spend the inner drama churning during the adolescent years.
“It’s a great way to channel the drama. They don’t realize it but they’re learning math and working on reading, social skills, and life skills. You can’t come out and say, ‘now we’re going to learn a life skill’ because that’s a real buzz kill,” she said, smiling.
Dinkel said performing arts teach students how to work toward a goal in a tangible way that lets them see the process from start to finish.
“We learn process, progress, and finally production. We look at where we are in the process toward the goal and that’s something they can use in anything in life,” she said.
Students are expected to take charge of many aspects of the musical, including set design and the way a scene plays out on stage.
“I throw a lot to them,” she said. “They come up with some excellent ideas. Right now, they’re trying to decide if they should make the pumpkin carriage out of PVC pipe or tent fiberglass pipe.”
One student decided to make a broom for Cinderella but wanted it to look like a centuries old model. Dinkel purchased the supplies and let him go to work on the project. Allowing students to initiate and complete ideas is part of the teaching process.
Dinkel’s classroom experience has not been limited to the middle school years. She has taught PreK through 12th grade.
“I honestly believe middle school is my favorite of all that grades I’ve taught. I love that they’re finding out who they are, where their interests lay and they’re just starting to figure out what they want to do. It’s kind of like having a child on a bicycle with training wheels and they want to take off the training wheels, but they’re not ready for you to leave them.
So, you’re right behind them and they’re a little scared but they have that hint of independence,” she said.
With independence, tolerance must balance the tone of the classroom. Allowing students to explore and experience success also means letting other students discover their gifts and ideas.
“They have to understand that everyone is unique. Each one has their own strengths and brings that to the group. This is where the unique and their quirky find a place to belong, a safe place. In middle school often if students don’t find their place, in high school they are lost because there is so much more going on. Music is the second largest non-athletic program at the high school. It’s everywhere,” she said.
Many school districts do not support performing arts programs because of the expense.
“Cinderella, the license is $500 and that’s for one performance without filming and without charging admission. They (Disney) charge more for the high school licenses. I am so grateful for the support of the district administration and Diana Lebsack, our principal.”