Miss Julia cooks up a ducky tale!

4:21 PM
First Stage Education Director Julia Magnasco is like the best kind of chef who creates a wonderful moment using a few good ingredients and lots of expertise. Gathering a couple of props and a stack of glossy picture books, “Miss Julia” spent a cold afternoon in February at Alba School on Milwaukee’s west side. Inside Salon 203, Julia ably convinced a room of 4-year-olds that they were newly-hatched ducklings. With a feather boa and an apron, Miss Julia transformed herself into their mother duck who taught her babies to swim, dive, splash, and most importantly, to fight off hungry crocodiles. For many of these students, English is their second language. But language was not a barrier for them as they eagerly followed the story of Guji Guji, happily quacking away, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English. The room was mesmerized, and every child was sparkly-eyed and lively. They didn’t realize that they were learning valuable language skills. They were too busy hatching from their eggs.

This is Pre-S.C.O.R.E., a pilot program developed by First Stage Children’s Theater to increase literacy in preschool children. The program uses creative drama to teach language arts. With well-loved children’s books as a springboard for a lesson, Miss Julia brings the story to life with activities and dramatizations based on elements of the book and its characters. Research shows that for very young children, exploring and playing with books is essential to the development of early literacy skills and long-term literacy development. Owning books, too, enhances literacy efforts, and the Pre-SCORE program provides a copy of the book for each student to keep as a first step in building a personal library. The pilot program receives support through a grant from National City, now a part of PNC Bank.

Educational research and curriculum development may sound dry but Ms. Sandra Sanchez Segura, the classroom teacher in Salon 203 in this mainly Spanish-speaking school, commented that the afternoon with Miss Julia was fantastic, and that seeing her students so actively engaged brought tears to her eyes. Along with her students, she eagerly looks forward to Miss Julia’s next visit.

That cold afternoon passed quickly.  Miss Julia generously shared her secret ingredients of creativity and imagination and the children gobbled up the story of Guji Guji, a baby crocodile who believes he is a duck.  As students tucked away new copies of the book into their backpacks, their minds were like little stoves, turned on and ready to cook up their own tale of ducky bravery back home.
Photos of First Stage Children's Theater's Julia Magnasco and students at ALBA School by Jennifer McClellan

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