Board Member Libby Baranko helps fuel arts education in Mequon

By Mithra Ballesteros, First Stage Children's Theater

First Stage Board Member Libby Baranko is the first to admit that sporting events hold a certain attraction for her family of three boys. But the former first-grade teacher also believes passionately that the arts are essential to a well-rounded education. So when she heard the $40 price tag for a First Stage pre-show workshop for a class of thirty kids, she had to act. Knowing that her son's entire seventh grade would be seeing First Stage's production, THE MAGIC BICYCLE, Baranko decided to underwrite pre-show workshops for four classrooms.

"As a family, we're guilty of spending $300 at a Buck's game after paying for tickets, food, parking, etc. For about half of that sum, we were able to enrich not only our child's experience but the experience of the entire seventh grade," said Baranko.

First Stage's pre-show workshops are 45-minute interactive sessions that take place right in a teacher's classroom. Led by First Stage teaching artists, the workshops serve to deepen a student's understanding of the play.

At Lake Shore Middle School in Mequon, Ryan Baranko and his fellow classmates took on the personas of scientists as they debated aspects of time travel. First Stage teaching artists Marcy Kearns and Jason Knop questioned students on the meaning of time. One young lady made the bold statement that the future does not exist: "If you travel to the future, you are now in the present and the future ceases to exist. And the same can be true if you travel back in time. Then the past and the present become the same thing," she explained. "Only if we believe in linear time," responded Kearns. (These kids were darn smart and knew a thing or two about quantum physics and time travel. Click here to read more on that!)

After Ryan participated in the workshop, his mother decided to go a step further. "My son had such a great experience that it catapulted me into thinking about how to get my younger son's school to see the value of First Stage's Theater in Education program." Thanks to an additional gift from the Baranko family, Donges Bay Elementary School will be participating in a First Stage Bully Ban workshop.

"Typically, a workshop on bullying is something that the PTO would fund. But the truth is that PTO money is so thin, and the workshop experience is so priceless and valuable, I am happy to support this program. And I know that there are many other families who also value educational excellence and who could come together to provide this programming for their schools."

As First Stage works to increase awareness of its Theater in Education program, Baranko's advocacy is well-timed. Said First Stage Managing Director Rob Goodman, "As schools face continuing cuts in arts education, First Stage offers a lifeline to teachers. Libby Baranko spent a lot of years in the classroom, so she has a deep appreciation for what we hope to accomplish through our Theater in Education program. Her passion for our mission and her financial commitment are invaluable. She sets the bar high as a parent, as a volunteer, and as an educator."

"For $40, thirty children spent nearly an hour getting connected to this wonderful play. What could be more worthwhile than that?" asked Baranko.

For more information on First Stage's Theater in Education programming, click here. To see Education Director Julia Magnasco in action, watch this short video.

Photos taken by Mithra Ballesteros, First Stage Children's Theater

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