Last Thursday night provided the ideal model for any educational endeavor, combining a history lesson, a talent showcase and a benefit for charity.
The entire fifth-grade class at Daly Elementary School in Hamilton put on a production of "We Are America" to a packed house at the Hamilton Performing Arts Center, detailing the establishment of the 13 original colonies all the way through to the American Revolution in song and dance routines that elicited cheers and laughs all night.
The fifth-graders have been working on the play for almost three months, said teacher Cassie Betz, and they were thrilled to finally showcase their skills.
"They were on Cloud Nine," she said. "They loved it and they were fired up. I think they were really proud of themselves and they felt like they did a great job. Everyone was grinning from ear to ear."
The play included every major figure in the early formation of this country, from political figures to Native Americans to Spanish conquistadores. There were even a couple of Vikings, dressed like fans of the Minnesota Vikings football team, that were confused as to their place in history and drew loud laughter from the crowd. The production was designed so everyone would feel included, Betz explained.
"We wanted to do this play because we felt like we could involve all the kids that would fit their learning style," she said. "Some kids are comfortable on stage and others aren't. So we spent a lot of time researching that period, the American Revolution, and the kids added their own twist. It was really neat for them to be able to showcase their talents like that."
For the past 16 years, the fifth-graders at Daly have put on their wax museum project to learn about history, but this year, the school decided to do something a little different.
"A lot of the parents were used to the wax museum project, so they weren't really sure what to expect this year," Betz said. "We did more of the preparation at school this year. So I think a lot of the parents were really kind of surprised, and really impressed. We were excited to try something new."
Although the teachers found the play online, the Daly kids added a lot of their own flair to the script to fit their style.
"We tweaked it a little bit," Betz said. "We added some parts to make sure the kids who wanted to act could be in it, and added their own lines. It was a challenge for the teachers, because we were learning along with the kids."
Betz said the teachers got a lot of positive feedback from everyone about the play, meaning it will probably happen again next year.
"We are going to debrief and talk about how it went," she said. "I was backstage the whole time so I didn't even see it. But I think the kids had a great time though. We are going to get input from the parents and kids and see if they think we should pursue it again next year."
The production had an added benefit for the community, as admission to the production was one can of non-perishable food, and the kids were able to collect almost 300 pounds to give to the Haven House food bank in Hamilton.
"It was a history lesson for a good cause, definitely," Betz said. "Now more than ever, Haven House needs our help to feed and support the people of the Bitterroot Valley."
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.