First graders prance about a stage in fits and starts as Andrea Rausch spits out commands. She shouts for them to stop and students halt, posed, as if preserved in amber, in the wild contortions of running. Rausch orders them to sit and they flop to the ground in ragged unison.
Fifth graders follow them to the stage and practice tongue-twisters and brain-teasers. They try to follow increasingly complex physical commands that make an adult’s head throb. It’s muscle-building for the brain, disguised as fun.
It’s all part of Storytree Children’s Theater, a group of professional performers and teaching artists who use theater to excite, empower, entertain and teach children.
The non-profit partners with Charleston Promise Neighborhood as part of CPN’s after-school enrichment offered at Mary Ford Elementary School. Recent testing has demonstrated that the enrichment is boosting student’s performance in 10 critical 21st century workplace skills.
Through Storytree, students are on a path to improved literacy through theater. Younger children learn about body control, emotions and relationships. Third-to-fifth graders will write their own plays at the end of the school year.
“The joy of our program is that we get to witness that moment when the information we’re teaching ‘clicks’ with the students whether that be learning number operations, the feudal system, or playwriting,” says Rausch.