The fifth-graders at Hillcrest Intermediate School in North Huntingdon (PA) put on a musical every year. It’s a great way to break the ice socially, to foster the love of the arts, and teach a few lessons about performance and about life. Read more about the fifth-grade production of Beauty and the Beast here.

                                             Beast Musical Blog 

                                                                   Photo credit: Christin J. Slatt

Family support is so important, and fifth-grader Keeghan Murray has that in spades. “He was nervous at the audition, but was brave and I guess that worked out for him! He is a confident kid and this just motivates him even more.”

He’s not the only one in his family with talent, either. His mom, Jodi Murray says, “Keeghan’s older siblings are all involved in musicals, choir, show choir and dancing—especially Irish step dancing—and they also play guitar.”

“My older brother and sisters have always been in the school musicals and they seem fun,” Keeghan agrees. “I’ve taken acoustic guitar lessons, and just started playing the electric guitar. My big brother and I also play ukulele together; we taught ourselves watching YouTube. I would like to also play the banjo and the mandolin. I also like to sing in the choir. I think my lessons help me love music and performing for others.”

For many students, that family background isn’t always a given. “I didn’t perform in any productions in high school or college,” Mr. Swenson says. Thom Swenson is a 5th grade teacher at Hillcrest and director of the Jansons. “I think that my parents missed the boat for me and didn’t get me involved in things at a young age. There weren’t opportunities like the kids have today when I was growing up. My parents are supportive but maybe weren’t aware of what was available. Maybe that is why I feel that we need to expose kids to opportunities that we didn’t have growing up.”

In the current economic climate, many extracurricular performing arts programs are being mercilessly slashed. Thankfully, that’s not the case at Norwin. “The administration is always supportive of programs that help to develop the complete well being of the students. The building and district administration are a resource to provide support and guidance as new programs are implemented in the district.”

Administrative support is one thing, but funding is often quite another. How do they do it? “Our club is funded by the prior year’s production,” Mr. Swenson explains. “We are able to hold back some funds to alleviate any costs for the next year’s show. Donations are collected from the students to assist with costumes and props.” The group always uses a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales to make a donation to a local charity. “This allows the students to see that we can make a difference in the lives of the people around us while having a good time.”

“We try to make the experience as rewarding and as beneficial for each student no matter their role in the production,” assures Mr. Swenson. “We view each student as a star and we have other goals than a flawless Broadway show. It is important to expose children to the theater and begin to lay a foundation as future performers,” Mr. Swenson says.

                                           Dance Beauty Beast

                                                          Photo credit: Christin J. Slatt

Having experienced this year’s fifth-grade musical as The Beast, what would Keeghan say to next year’s participants? “The teachers are amazing and I am so glad they take their time to do the musical with us. I would tell the 5th graders next year that it is a big job. You have to be part of a team and stick with it. In the end, it is worth it because it is so fun.”