Why a School-Wide Musical?
At CESJDS, we take a purposeful approach to “education of the whole child.” Last December, I wrote a Principal’s Perspective on what that term means for us here at the school and if you are interested in reading or revisiting it, I am pleased to be able to share the text of that article with you here. In short, whole child education means that the domains of academic, social-emotional, spiritual, and physical learning are all integrated into our educational program and that we have benchmarks or goals for development in each area. In order to prepare our students for middle school, high school, higher education and adult life in the 21st century, we must make sure that we partner with you in raising and educating children with skills and content knowledge that will allow them to be confident and strongly identified leaders of and participants in the Jewish community and wider society. This foundational understanding of our mission and purpose informs each and every educational decision that we make, including the establishment four years ago of an annual school-wide musical production.
While the response to the Fanaroff Family Hanukkah Musical has been overwhelmingly positive, I have received questions here and there from students and parents about why the School invests time and resources into the endeavor. These are important questions and I want to take the opportunity, with this year’s production of “MaccaBeatles” quickly approaching, to be able to share the rationale with the entire community. While the musical itself is always entertaining, we do not run the production merely for this purpose. As we have seen over the last four years, with greater numbers of students now participating in lead and participatory roles in Lower and Middle School performing arts productions, the Hanukkah Musical has resulted in the achievement of a number of goals, both educational and communal, in a variety of domains:
Music and Dance: In a time when Arts education has been hit hard in the wider community, our musical is an Arts enrichment experience that supports all students in their learning of individual and choral singing, music appreciation, music history and group dance. While our regularly scheduled music and Israeli dance programs have grown and are of exceptional quality, the musical builds upon those foundations and offers a unique experience that cannot be had in a classroom or small group lesson.
Public Speaking: When exploring studies of the most commonly held phobias, social phobia regularly appears. The most common form of social phobia is fear of public speaking (also known as stage fright) and this is a skill that can be learned and practiced at a young age in order to prevent or significantly curtail the development of the phobia in the first place. Our musical gives our students exposure, beginning in Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten, to appearing and performing on stage in front of a large so that this is a normalized experienced as they grow up.
Differentiation: Meeting every student where they are in order to support their success is an element of our individualized learning philosophy. The musical offers students with strengths in artistic domains the opportunity to shine, grow self-esteem, and develop confidence in themselves and with safe risk-taking that students who excel in academics commonly experience in the regular classroom. This social-emotional development is key for every student and must be supported for all. Differentiation also takes place within the production as older students are offered participation in stage and technical crews both on a volunteer basis and as alternatives to performance, if necessary for educational reasons. These are experiences they could not have without the production.
Community Building: It is a rare occasion when significant portions of our school community are able to gather together for an event. Yet, k’hilah/community is one of the Core Values of our School and one of the elements of school life about which parents and students rave. The musical provides an opportunity to bring our families together to celebrate the festival of Hanukkah, the incredible talents of our students, and the accomplishments of our school in an entertaining and creative way.
While preparation for the musical is taking place, it can appear to be an all-encompassing project that overtakes the life of the school. Fortunately, that is not how it functions internally. Rehearsals are carefully scheduled so that they take place almost exclusively during non-academic times of the day. We prioritize instruction and curricular progress while we simultaneously enrich in the Arts. It is a balance that brings tremendous benefit to our students and can be appreciated by families and faculty.
We have been overwhelmed by the establishment and growth our musical program over the past four years. Within the first days and weeks that faculty and students returned to school in August and September, I received many inquiries about the theme for this year’s production and questions about when auditions would be scheduled. I have received specific theme requests or recommendations for future shows (Hamilton being the most popular - we will see!) and heard reports from students and parents that they have been writing lyrics to songs on a common theme at home as a result of the excitement and energy that the musical has engendered. I am grateful that the musical has brought this positivity to the community and look forward to supporting and growing the endeavor of the Fanaroff Family Hanukkah Musical for many years to come.