Second Graders Take Their Learning Beyond the Classroom

For the past two months our second graders have been working closely with Miriam Tobin, a Theatre Artist, to explore themes of civics, economics and citizen responsibility through the lens of playwriting and theatrical performance.  In addition to collectively writing a play based on a “problem” the students observe in their own community, these classes are also learning about stage management and theatrical lighting, set, costume and sound design.  In their classrooms the students have been learning key industry terms like “inciting incident”, “lighting board”, “technician” and “grid”.   But last week, the kids took their learning beyond the school and onto the town when they attended The Snow Queen at the Denver Children’s Theatre. 

Because the performance starred Ms. Miriam Tobin in the role of the evil and cold Snow Queen, the challenge for educators was not how to get the students engaged but, rather, how to get them to contain their excitement.  Few, if any, of the students had ever attended a theatrical performance before.  Jaws dropped as we entered the space and into a world of ice castles and ambient sound.  Eyes twinkled as they saw their resident artist enter the stage for the first time.  All of the sudden the students seemed to understand why Ms. Miriam always has white paint in her hair when she arrives to class every week; the Snow Queen is covered in a solid white shimmer from head to toe.  “So that’s what make-up designers do”, I could hear them whisper.

After the performance the Mizel Arts and Cultural Center arranged for all of our students to participate in an informative Q&A session, a tour of the stage and backstage, and a mini acting class in the theater’s rehearsal space.  The experience served to solidify a link between lessons learned at school and how this magical world of theatre actually happens. 

Now I will be quite honest with you (and NO, I’m not biased :-)) when I say that our kids where the brownest, cutest kids in the audience that day.  They were all uniformly dressed in their DCIS shirts tucked into their standard khaki/blue pants and skirts.  The chaperones for our group were the teachers and staff from the school.  Conversely, many of the other children who attended the performance arrived with chaperones that appeared to be their parents, wearing sparkly dresses and collared, button down shirts appropriate for an evening of live theatre on a NY stage.  And while some might assume that these more “fortunate” kids would be the ones with the prior experiences to inform intelligent and relevant questions, it was OUR kids who were ahead of the game.  During the talkback one of our students asked the actors, “What do you think the inciting incident of the play was?”  Another DCIS student noted that she saw a “technician up in the grid changing a gel”.  I mean SERIOUSLY!  Our kids have been identified as less-than-proficient since I can remember, but last Monday these kiddos were on their game!  They were beyond proficient!  I was so, so proud of them. 

It was a beautiful day.  The students’ worlds expanded that day, and I got to observe it all happening.  They were able to experience that which they had learned.  Today many of the children tell me that they want to be a theatrical designer of some sort.  Others say they want to be a “technician”.  To me this means success.  They are aspiring to achieve.  And maybe this year they want to be a costume designer and next year they discover they want to be a graphic artist.  The important thing is that they know that they have options, and that ultimately it is up to them. 

Here are just a few pics from the day.  None of them do justice to the experience.  For a more accurate account of how things went down first close your eyes.  And then, in your mind’s eye, look upward to the clouds scattered above.  Watch as the clouds part and the vast blue sky beyond is revealed for all its wonder and size.  And finally reach up and take a piece of that big, wide universe and smush it into your heart where it will stay forever.  This is how I will carry the experience with me, and, I suspect, how the kids will too.

Con Amor,


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DCIS Foundation Fundraiser

This year the DCIS Foundation Board had the daunting task of raising funds for not one, but THREE schools in the DCIS network.  The Foundation’s mission is simple:  Provide funding, scholarships and opportunities for the DCIS students to travel and learn abroad.  While this seems quite clear at the middle and high school level, what does it mean for elementary age students to travel?   Are we really going to send six year olds to the continent of Africa for a service learning project?  Should we send a second grader to China on a learning scholarship? Are these realistic and obtainable goals?  The answer is of course not!  The Foundation Board needed to evaluate what travel means for young children, and with the help of some passionate teachers and program administrators at the school, they have decided that travel at the tender age of 5, 6 or even 10 means FIELD TRIPS! 

Now we are not talking about taking field trips just to change the scenery.  We are not talking about a trip to the movies here, folks.  We are talking about engaging experiences that compliment and build upon student learning.  We are talking about field trips that address the Asia Society’s four indicators of global competence.  We are talking about (1) Investigating the World, (2) Weighing the Perspectives of Others, (3) Communicating Ideas, and (4) Taking Action.  We are talking about bringing learning beyond the classroom, beyond the halls and walls of the school, and into the real world where students can observe possibilities expanding. 

So in order to tug at the heart strings of already generous donors, this year’s annual luncheon event sought the help of four very passionate and articulate first graders.  Eliud, Dayanara, Kale and Consola had attendees mesmerized as they shared their most recent service learning experience with anyone interested enough to listen.  Each child told the account of how their class raised money to help fund the Asian animal exhibit at the Denver Zoo.  (They raised over $1,000!)  They explained what a tappir, flying fox and clouded leopard are.  They shared with passers-by art work that students created and sold to fundraise.  And most importantly, they spoke eloquently and with sincerity about the importance of “giving back”.  These kids may not have the material luxuries had by other children these days, but what they do have is a heart for giving and gratitude.  And hopefully their giving nature was contagious… 

The plan for next year is this: Expose every DCIS elementary age student to cultural experiences in their own community and state, before launching them into the bigger and wider world.  For example… Perhaps a science lesson can relocate onto a local and sustainable farm.  Maybe a literacy exploration could bring kids to a poetry slam competition.  A social studies unit on Colorado’s history could easily segue-way into a student led excavation at the Garden Park Fossil Area in Canyon City, CO.   Simply stated, the possibilities are as endless as the sea and sky. 

I can go on and on about this wonderful fundraising experience last week.  Likewise, I could “talk the birds out of the trees” (as my grandpa use to say) about the value of experiential learning.  But in the end, I will let the below photos conclude my tale.  Should you have any questions about the DCIS Foundation Board or about how you can contribute or get involved, please visit their website at  

Thanks for your time and Adios!