If you are old enough to remember the Art Linkletter radio or TV show “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” then you will enjoy the comments of Jackson Elementary School fifth graders after attending a play at Roosevelt High School.
The Jackson students were among nearly 6,000 fifth graders from Fresno Unified School District who saw a play in six performances over a three-day period recently.
“Our Founding Fathers and Mothers” was written by Laurie Pessano and produced by Laurie and Dan Pessano of Good Company Players with a professional cast plus assistance in lighting and set design from high school students in Roosevelt’s School of the Arts magnet program.
The play was part of the districtwide emphasis on the arts promoted by the Washington D.C. Kennedy Center’s “Any Given Child” program. Fresno was selected as a collaborating district, and was funded by a gift from local supporters of arts education. Catherine Aujero, the district’s visual and performing arts manager, coordinated the event.
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In keeping with fifth-grade social studies curriculum centered around the American Revolutionary War and the founding of our country, the play describes the issues and personalities involved in that historic time.
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Molly Pitcher and others come to life with multi-media involvement. But preteen humor also is included to get the attention of students, including Ben Franklin as a substitute teacher, and his students, who make up excuses for not being prepared for a test.
As part of the follow-up lessons to the play, some students wrote letters to Good Company Players.
Jasmin called it “one of the second-funniest plays ever.” She did not reveal her first choice.
Destiny told the performers, “You really did a great job. My only question was how did you guys remember all of the words? It was so long. I loved how all the props had sound effects and how the guns looked so real.”
Samantha said, “My favorite part was that the substitute teacher was Benjamin Franklin and the funny part was when a cannonball past(sic) through the legs of Molly Pitcher.”
Anthony thought that the play was fascinating “and brought history to life. Some events I didn’t understand that well (in class) but when I watched the play, I understood it way more.”
Jose and others thought the best part was the war. “I like when they were hiding the guns because the British were coming and they were looking for the guns but didn’t find them.”
Julian, apparently an experienced critic, opined, “I honestly believe you guys did a magnificent job. It was really clever. Everything was very realistic.”
Breanna liked the play because it was both funny and sad.
Gonzales said he learned that we will never know who fired the first shots. “I loved the background and the projections. As you can see, I have never been to the theater and I loved the show.”
Andrew joined many others in relating to the students who were not prepared for a test. He concluded, “This was the best field trip I ever went on.”
Mario really enjoyed the experience. “My favorite part was the teaming up with France because that’s how we made the Declaration of Independence. Also how women helped in the war. I loved how you brought our social studies book to life.”
But the last word goes to Anahi, a practical sort, who noted, “We are glad we did not have to pay for the play.”
From their quirky, interesting and very sincere comments, you can see that the arts do make a difference for children.
Writer Grace Hwang Lynch from the Bay Area notes that the arts are the “building blocks of child development.” They support learning in so many ways: language development, decision making, critical thinking, visual learning, inventiveness and cultural awareness.
A study by the organization Americans for the Arts determined the children who participate in arts-related activities for three hours a day, three days a week for a year were four times more likely than others to be recognized for academic achievement, participation in math and science fairs, and win awards for essays or poetry.
So bringing the Revolutionary War to life in a truthful, dramatic and funny way was an opportunity for thousands of Fresno youngsters, most of whom had never seen a full theatrical production, to experience an exciting educational experience that brought history to life and encouraged more learning.
And kids do say the darndest things!
Francine M. Farber is a retired school district administrator who is a full-time community volunteer. She and her husband, Murray, are supporters of arts education.