Each quarter, AmeriCorps collects “Great Stories” from our 18 members throughout the region about their experiences assisting regional youth in their classrooms.
This month’s story comes from AmeriCorps member Charlie Page:
Fifth grade is a hard year: it’s transitory, they’re no longer the ‘kids’ of fourth grade in their minds— although at the beginning of the year developmentally they’re not that far away. In our case, they’ve also moved from the elementary “South Wing” to the middle school “North Wing,” which has its own connotations of autonomy and power.
Fifth grade can also be a big hormonal change for many of the students. In assisting with the fifth grade, I was usually met with frustrated glares, emotional angst and a lot of uncooperative students.
Each grade has performances based on units of study. There are two performances: he first is presented to other students of the school and the second is an evening performance for parents. Recently, the fifth grade had an informal informative performance, called an “Informance’ that was about the human body systems they had studied in science class. Students had written songs and even short dance phrases designed to exemplify the actions of each system as it was highlighted. After, they proceeded to segment of reading creative fiction monologues that involved characters who were experiencing individual systems.
Being argumentative and stubborn most, if not all, of the fifth grade students did not want to do their ‘Informance.’ For one thing, it involved performing on stage, which wasn’t necessarily an exciting prospect. To boot, it involved a lot of group work—which wasn’t a skill they had developed, (personal issues between students they can’t get over and on top of that—compromising not being something they’d practiced).
Leading up to the day of the performance, even the teachers were wondering if they were going to be able to pull it off or not. I was supporting the dance instructor during class time to help one day. I was working with the Nervous System group. They were struggling to come up with, and agree on, movements as well as struggling to balance the more efficient personalities with the lackadaisical personalities. They were not incredibly receptive to my suggestions or my help, but managed to come up with some movements they could agree upon with a few minutes to spare—and as a result of this session I became very invested in their group’s success.
During a rehearsal a couple of days before the ‘Informance,’ the Nervous System weren’t singing their song . They’re dance moves…were more or less according to the script. Without seeing as enough time to polish things before the actual performance, it was decided that this group wouldn’t sing the song they had written— they would just do the movements twice. They were the only group that wasn’t going to sing. Most of them were very embarrassed by this fact. Isaiah, in particular, respectfully fought back and it was decided that if they could suitably sing the song by the performance date they could both sing and dance like the other groups.
After the rehearsal I worked with the group individually. The students that showed up were determined to work on their song and get it right. I talked with them about putting in their best effort and how they were embarrassed that they couldn’t do it. We went over their part several times. Their enthusiasm and their effort was a complete turnaround from before and it was so heartwarming to see. During the dress rehearsal the day of the performance, the Nervous System group did a great job,: they sang clearly and loudly. However, it was during the in-school performance that I was really proud of them.
I was working the tech side of things. The songs were supposed to be displayed on the projector—both for the audience’s benefit and to provide a backup for the students on stage. A recording of the song was also played as their accompaniment. During the Nervous System’s performance, I accidentally played the wrong song. I pictured the students just standing there not knowing what to do and I was so embarrassed because I knew how hard they worked. But instead of choking, they all sang the song anyway – to the wrong tune, which is even more impressive. And they did their movements as well. They knew the words and the melody so well that they sang it anyway and they powered through my mistake.
At the end of the ‘Informance’ I went to the Nervous System group to apologize but also to let them know how incredibly proud I was of them. At the beginning of the rehearsals I didn’t know if they were going to be able to perform at all but they worked hard and they practiced and they sang the song even without the backup of the recording. At the beginning of the year most several of the students in the Nervous System group did not respond well to my overtures of friendship. I had seen them bicker and blame each other for the failings of the group throughout the Human Body Informance process. When I apologized for my mess-up during the show I half expected some of the students to be hostile. Instead I was given “It’s okay” and some thumbs up and a “we forgive you” said good-naturedly. This more than anything showed a growth in these students through this performance process and I’m so excited to witness them grow and mature even more throughout this year.