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Chocachatti Second Graders Salute America and our Veterans

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There are two aspects of any performance at Chocachatti Elementary School that are noteworthy. One is that every show has elements that appeal to both children and adults. There is enough silly humor that children as young as kindergarten-age can enjoy and there are educational and entertaining elements that even adults can appreciate. The other aspect of every performance is the inclusivity of the production. Every student has an opportunity to be part of the show, whether onstage or backstage. Regardless of whether a child has a physical or intellectual challenge, they are important and needed! This is a lesson that children learn at an early age and ideally should apply to adult life as well.

On Wednesday, November 9, the second grade class performed a show in honor of Veterans’ Day. This has been a tradition at the school for many years. The morning performance was for the children and the evening performance was for the parents and veterans.

It was a lively show with more than twelve different acts that included singing, dancing and spoken parts. The performance began with a PowerPoint presentation showing photographs of veterans from every branch of the military and various eras – World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the more recent conflicts in the Middle East. Playing in the background was a soulful song entitled “Mr. Red, White and Blue.”

The show then proceeded with lines spoken by the children that described the story behind various aspects of our American heritage, such as the meaning of our flag, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Statue of Liberty. The students were poised standing in front of the microphones and reciting their memorized lines. Even a couple of technical glitches didn’t faze them.

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The children knew why they were performing the show, and you could sense the children’s pride and excitement as they spoke about their part in it prior to the performance.

Aubree Ball, one of the dancers, stated, “Veteran’s Day means we love our veterans. They’re people who have served past and present in the military.”

Shelby Harrison, who was a singer and also had a spoken part, said she had a lot of lines to learn but knew them “pretty good.” She remarked that her grandfather was a veteran who served in the Navy and told her stories about his experiences.

Aika Creighton did not perform on stage but had an important part in stagecraft as part of the backstage crew. This included props, lights, microphones and speakers. Aika stated, “It’s a lot of work. My biggest job was that I have to turn the lights on and off during the show.”

After the performance there was a lot of pent up energy released by the students as they listened to the director and teachers critique the show, praising them for the work they had done and pointing out ways to improve for the upcoming show that evening.

The production was a cooperative effort among the “Specials” teacher−dance teacher Rhonda Bowers; drama teacher Irmarie Kraft; music teacher Nancy Kraus; P.E. teacher Jennifer Flaherty; and art teacher Marianne Poholek. Second grade teacher Chantel Holmlund did a lot of the sewing of the costumes and Robert Russell helped with the directing.

The whole second grade team−Diana Lichtenwalter, Robert Russell, Susan Viola, Chantel Holmlund, Sarah Adams, Alicia Russell, and Lisa VanCleave−was also instrumental in the success of the show. They taught the children about Veteran’s Day in their classes and kept the students on task despite the time needed to rehearse. As always with these shows, the children are expected to keep up with their regular classwork during the weeks of preparation.

Joshua Brown, one of the dancers, said that his favorite part was a segment of one of the dances called the “cinnamon roll.” He explained, “That’s where you spin in and spin out and then your partner spins in and spins out.” Joshua went on to say, “What I like best about living in America is that you get to experience all the things you want to experience.”

Gatlin Squires, who portrayed Uncle Sam, admitted that his lines were “a little hard to memorize” and “I liked the dancing the best.”

One of the little known facts about our country that was brought out in the show was that if Benjamin Franklin had had his way, the turkey would have become our national symbol instead of the bald eagle. Another piece of trivia is that President Herbert Hoover signed the bill making the Star Spangled Banner our national anthem.

Levi Meadors, who portrayed President Hoover, stated, “I liked the part where I had the big pencil and got to say, ‘The bill is signed.’ ”

The dancing and vocal numbers were choreographed well and demonstrated the weeks of practice that the children put in. There was a rousing western song, complete with two boys in cowboy hats riding stick horses. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” was accompanied by children with plastic bugles miming trumpet players. The children tap danced to the song “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

One of the most moving segments featured a boy dressed in desert fatigues on one side of the stage writing home to his parents while his parents on the other side of the stage read his letter. Then, as the son is reunited with his parents the chorus sang “Welcome Home.” Another poignant segment occurred when several girls walked down the aisle carrying baskets of artificial flowers and laid them at the foot of the Washington Monument.

Elijah Wald and Juliana Wright recreated the iconic moment captured in the photograph of the sailor impulsively kissing a nurse in the middle of Time Square when VJ Day was celebrated announcing the Japanese surrender in August of 1945.

The group, as a whole, sang two songs that also captured the pride that we feel in the United States and our diversity. One was entitled “The Spirit of America.” The other was a song that included the line “Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies.” The students sang in unison the names of all fifty states in alphabetical order and as the song progressed they speeded up the tempo. I challenge anyone to do the same!

The show ended with two girls holding up signs. One said “Thank you Veterans” and the other said “Thank you Soldiers.”

Drama teacher Irmarie Kraft explained the methods she uses with the children. “First, I show the students the pictures and information explaining the details from their show. Next, I have all the students read through the script as part of their audition process during their drama class. Once Ms. Bowers picked her dancers, I assigned the remaining students as speakers.”

Dance teacher Rhonda Bowers commented, “I am so proud of all the dancers who worked so hard and were so committed to attending rehearsals and memorizing the choreography. It’s a big undertaking but theses second graders where up to the challenge.”

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