After four months in the jungle, the kids could see a clearing ahead. And so, as they acted and sang through their final practice of The Jungle Book before premiering it to their community, the Sherman Elementary students were keeping it simple.
Costumes? Largely unnecessary for this run-through. Musical accompaniment? Just from a teacher’s laptop today. The set? Nothing fancy; a few plain dividers and a small stage would do.
The bare necessities, if you will.
But two days later, these third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders would deftly share the story of Mowgli, a child raised in the Indian jungle by wolves. As the story goes, the friendly panther Bagheera and helpful bear Baloo urge the prodigious “man-cub” to escape the jungle before Shere Khan, a villainous tiger, finds him.
The Jungle Book was the culmination of 17 weeks of effort, focus, and hard work by the youngsters, many who also attend Civic Nebraska’s after-school Community Learning Center at Sherman.
Sherman was among a handful of schools chosen this year for the Disney Musicals in Schools program, a musical theater project led by teaching artists with Omaha Performing Arts and Disney Theatrical Productions. As a participant, Sherman received performance rights, education support, and guidance from teaching artists.
By the time their final practice rolled around, students had learned how to focus their creativity, to work together, and to take accountability for the production – both as individuals and as a team, teaching artist Anthony D. Holmes said.
“From the start of our time (at Sherman) to now, we’ve seen such growth,” Holmes said. “Their confidence and self-assurance have really developed … along with their skills.”
Much of the credit goes to music teacher Barbra Jones and library specialist Angela Keim, who led direction and production throughout the process, Holmes said. And there’s fourth-grade teacher Mexi Zahm, who helps keep the production on track with the set, costumes, logistics, and whatever else might be needed.
Zahm, whose daughter Sesi is in the production, said students’ confidence and excitement was over the top Feb. 24 at The Holland Performing Arts Center. That’s when Sherman joined five other first-year participating schools at the downtown Omaha concert hall for a “Student Share Celebration.” Each school performed a choreographed number from their show before a live audience.
“There have been so many positive relationships that have come from this,” Zahm said. “Not just between the kids, who have really grown in their friendships, but also between the teachers, the community, and everyone involved.”
Becky Nichol, Civic Nebraska’s after-school site director at Sherman, said that’s exactly what Civic Nebraska’s CLC focuses on during after-school hours. And that’s why she was happy to see The Jungle Book fit neatly into CLC programming every Tuesday and Thursday since October.
“We see students figuring out how to solve problems, how to communicate positively, and how to work together,” Nichol said. “Everyone loves to see that.”
Or, to borrow a phrase from the musical, it’s a kick.
Education is an act of civic engagement. Learn more about Civic Nebraska’s before- and after-school programs here.