At 8:30 a.m. I rolled out of bed and got ready in just enough time to make it to the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center for Theater Academy’s daily Beginning of Day gathering. As I walked in to the room I expected to be greeted by a group of tired, sluggish children. However, I have never been so wrong.
Beginning of Day started with Associate Academy Director Laurie Nicholas DeMoon shouting “Welcome to beginning of day!” This announcement caused uproar among the children who began cheering and pounding on the ground. The excitement in the room was enough to force me out of my lethargic mood. While some might think getting children this riled up at the beginning of a meeting is asking for disaster, the Academy students fell silent with a simple “shh.”
Announcements were next on the Beginning of Day list. While Laurie had some quick announcements of her own, many of the announcements came from the students themselves.
Beginning of Day always ends with challenges, which in my opinion was the greatest part of the meeting. Challenges are the students’ ideas of what can be worked on throughout the day. Some challenges included being more focused, being quiet while walking through the hallways and my personal favorite, eating lunch with someone new. After challenges, the students all stand up and belt out the Academy cheer. Then the children break off and head out to their specific classes for the day.
Around 4:00, once all classes are finished, the Academy students meet up again for End of Day. This part of the day is set up very much like Beginning of Day. Academy Director John Maclay welcomes the students, followed by 30 seconds of chaos, and then announcements are given. During End of Day, however, acknowledgements are given instead of challenges. Acknowledgements allow the students’ to give others recognition for good deeds done throughout the day.
Before the students leave for the day, Maclay wraps up the meeting with encouraging words. He told the children that the work done as students and actors is very important, but the most important work of all is the work they do as people. He then closed the meeting by telling the students that they have two jobs, “give everyone the benefit of the doubt and take care of them.”
As I walked out of the room after End of Day, I was truly amazed by what had just happened. It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of hundreds of peers and talk about challenges and acknowledgements, but these children did it with such ease. The environment was so supportive that the kids felt like they could say anything (not to mention most of them were more articulate than some adults I know).
Even though I have no talent in the arts, I wish I had gone to Theater Academy when I was younger. The lessons these kids are learning will help them in all aspects of life, which now makes me understand “teaching life skills through stage skills.” If interested, it isn’t too late to sign your child up. Registration is open through August 8, just visit http://www.firststage.org/theateracademy/.