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Middle-schoolers develop skills, confidence through theater

Working through drama with, well, drama 

At Lowell Middle School, seventh-graders have the opportunity to step out of their shells, take risks and perform during drama class.

Lowell — Lowell Middle School’s auditorium went dark for a few minutes as students onstage turned into campers, navigating the night with flashlights.

Soon after, they began a rambunctious game of capture the flag, complete with choreographed dance steps and an unscripted, mid-cartwheel collision of two campers. 

Then they settled down to write letters home about their summertime escapades involving itchy poison ivy, a broken ankle and other comedic mishaps. 

The 20 seventh-graders in drama class rehearsed the first five scenes of the play, “Letters from Summer Camp,” written by teacher Andrea Struckmeyer. They delivered lines, practiced expressions and dance moves during their sixth-hour class, while keeping in mind Struckmeyer’s tips to project their voices and focus on “being in the story.” 

‘They memorize their lines; they do something they’re very uncomfortable with — I mean, dancing, in middle school? They have permission to take a risk and try something new.’

—  drama teacher Andrea Struckmeyer

They will perform the play for friends and family on Feb. 29.

Students in the 12-week elective — many of whom didn’t choose to be placed in the class, but landed in it by default — are learning more than stage directions, drama terms and acting techniques. They are developing social and communication skills that help them maneuver through the tough middle-school years when “everyone is awkward,” Struckmeyer said. 

Presentation, teamwork and collaboration are all required in acting, she said, and having those strong skills helps develop confidence in all areas. Struckmeyer writes all of the plays at LMS, ensuring enough roles for all students.

Memories in the Making

She’s seen it many times over the past 10 years teaching the class: a timid student’s nerves early on are replaced by a confident smile at the end of the trimester.

“I used to be shy, but now I’m not,” said seventh-grader Jonathan Loyd, who plays a cook and baseball player in the play. “When I’m older, I’m not going to be looking down on myself when I’m talking to others.”

Students do some pretty brave things, Struckmeyer said.

“They memorize their lines; they do something they’re very uncomfortable with — I mean, dancing, in middle school? They have permission to take a risk and try something new.”

Plus, students always remember Play Day, when they present a full-length play to parents and friends and realize how much they’ve accomplished individually and together.

“It gives them something they can be proud of,” Struckmeyer said. “I think there’s a lot of teamwork between kids. They wouldn’t necessarily choose each other as friends, but what’s kind of magical is that by the time they get to Play Day, everybody’s for each other.

“I say to them, ‘When you grow up you will forget a lot of things and you will forget a lot of middle school, which I think is God’s way of protecting us, but you will always remember Play Day.’”

Isaac Kissinger, who plays a junior counselor, said he has increased his confidence and speaking ability in other classes as well.

“Presentations are way easier in health and ELA,” he said.

Baylie Marcus practices scenes with big expressions and silly dance moves. She said she’s enjoying being herself and trying new things.

“I’m not afraid to go out there and do something,” she said.

Struckmeyer said the middle school drama program begins in sixth grade, with Introduction to Drama as “a baby step into the program.” Seventh-grade drama is almost completely devoted to the full-length play, which prepares many of them for eighth grade, when they can take the more advanced Public Speaking and Drama classes.

In high school, many continue to be involved in theater, and opportunities like the high school radio station, debate, broadcasting, Model U.N. and Future Farmers of America.

Struckmeyer said she sits on the audition panel for the high school musical and sees first-hand how far her students have come.

“I see a kid coming in for their audition piece, and in my mind I’m thinking of their little self when they were in seventh grade … It’s so cool to see them excel there.” 

Read more from Lowell: 
A voice for others, he inspires and educates
Middle school should be a nice, kind place

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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