Thursday, April 26, 2012

School House Rock, Live! Jr. Rocks South View!

Unpack Your Adjectives! You'll need them to describe this powerful, collaborative effort. 
Kudos to all!
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

Where else can you get your groove on and learn basic grammar and number smarts? On the stage at Dragseth Auditorium in South View Middle School, of course! Students at South View Middle School have been rehearsing School House Rock, Live! Jr. since February, under the direction of Greg Joelson and the musical direction of James Hawthorne.

Based on the popular educational animated shorts aired during Saturday morning programming in the 70’s and 80’s, the show features familiar tunes such as Unpack your Adjectives, Just a Bill, and a rousing finale of Conjunction Junction.  Some of the students were raised on video versions of the songs promoted by their baby boomer parents; others were unfamiliar with these nostalgic jingles when rehearsals began. Everyone is rocking now, though, as the kids have worked hard to master the harmonies and combine dance and action to bring these cartoons to life.

The show follows anxious rookie teacher Tom, played by ninth grade theater-newcomer Declan D., as he prepares for his first day in the classroom. Wondering how he will introduce himself to his third grade class, Tom’s alter egos, portrayed by veteran eighth and ninth grade performers Luci C., Sophie L., Cameron M., Jack S., and Helen W., emerge to reassure him that he has what it takes to tackle the task of educating a room full of 8-year-olds, thanks to the songs and messages of School House Rock. The fun and music begin!

Less of a traditional, plot–based musical, and more of an ensemble production, School House Rock, Live! Jr. has been a change of pace for the theater program at South View. The challenge: originally written for a cast of 6, director Greg Joelson had to adapt the show for a huge group of young teens. His solution: With musical director James Hawthorne, every interested student was included as they created smaller solo, dance and choral ensembles to rehearse the songs and learn the movements, and combined them all over the last four weeks on the stage.  Motivating such a large group of middle school aged kids to sing and dance, and at the same time, is not a task for the faint-hearted! There are few “stars” in this show; instead, the entire cast remains on the stage throughout the production, singing and dancing in each number.

Accommodating 60+ student players on the stage at the same time fell to Edina orchestra teacher Matt Pearson, as set designer for the show. His solution: stack ‘em high! He created, with the help of a dedicated smaller crew of parents and students with drills in hand, a three-tiered set of platforms and stairs to feature the cast. Professional artist and set designer Marjorie Fedyszyn lent her expertise to prop design and production, rendering larger-than-life foam sculptures, including everyone’s favorite, Interplanet Janet, with her small group of dedicated student artists. Rounding out the production team, veteran motion picture costumer Jane Williams designed a costume scheme based on the hues of television screen test patterns, adding the final spark of color to this production.

M. Claps-Gratzek
Please join us! School House Rock, Live! Jr. will appear at the Dragseth Auditorium in South View Middle School at 7 pm on Thursday, April 26 and Friday, April 27; and at 2 pm on Saturday, April 28. Tickets are available in the theater lobby one hour prior to each performance, or may be purchased in advance at the South View main lobby, April 25-27, 10:30 am-1 pm. Inquiries may be directed to M. Claps-Gratzek at

Friday, April 20, 2012

South View French Exchange Program

Great teachers make global collaborations like this happen every day in Edina Public Schools, preparing our students to thrive in a rapidly changing, culturally diverse, global society! Check out our Google Map to learn more.
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

Leaving one's own, native country for any length of time is shocking for any age. 13 middle school students from near Versailles, France experienced some of this culture shock when they were greeted by their South View Middle School host students and families at the airport in February.  This was the beginning of a ten-day home stay with Edina host families for the French students, who came here to practice English, experience an American middle school, and live with an American family.  This was the second annual February host program between South View Middle School and Vistas in Education (VIE).  Vistas has arranged travel and home stays for students in France and the US since 1976.

I began working with VIE 5 years ago, when I started teaching in Edina. I wanted to get kids interested in hosting a French student during the summer. Two years ago, VIE, looking for a strong French program in the metro area, approached me about piloting a host program during the school year.  I jumped at the idea.  The size of the French program at South View has doubled in the last five years, so I knew I could find families who would welcome these French students as a breath of French air during the month of February! Parents and families in our community are so generous with their support for our schools. 

How amazing for these French kids to not only experience an American family, but also an American school. It's so different!  We have lockers in our hallways in the US!  Kids wear sweatpants…to school…regularly!  There are desk arrangements other than straight rows?!?!  We can eat pizza in the school cafeteria?  Students travel from room to room, rather than the teachers?  And school finishes at 2:40 – almost 2 hours earlier than in many French schools! These may seem small differences, but they speak volumes about our cultures. 

I imagine that the French and American students will reflect on these differences in the future and begin asking why.  And that reflection about our cultures is what brings us closer together and allows us to learn from one another.  The journey can continue when some of our students have the opportunity to step off the plane in France and feel their own culture shock and begin to reflect and learn. 

Betony Osborne
French Teacher, South View Middle School

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Peter Pan Flies at Valley View Middle School Theatre April 12-14

Creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, cultural competence and more: Activities like this production of Peter Pan allow our students to put all of  these crucial 21st century skills into practice. Thank you to the incredible team of community supporters who help our students soar!  
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

Amid ropes, railings, and ship’s wheel, a skirmish of Pirates and Lost Boys fill the stage of the EPAC theater. The Lost Boys struggle to save Wendy, John and Michael, held captive by pirates. Captain Hook steps menacingly towards Peter and just as Hook reaches out, Peter leaps from the ship --and flies through air! Peter Pan is flying! It’s all part of Valley View Middle School’s production of Peter Pan (School Version). The cast and crew has grown to over 170 students participating in the Spring Musical performance. 

Peter “flies” with the help of a little stage magic. Strapped into what looks like a skydiver’s harness and cables, he is “flown” using the weight of the ground crew for launch. Peter Pan and the main leads are double cast. Ben Weisman and Luke Eidsvold take turns facing Hook (Alex Kaufman and Daniel Sandberg) with the dramatic leap. The effect is thrilling and eye-catching.

Just as suddenly as the chaos begins, the cast falls silent and listens intently to Director Elizabeth Chaigne.  She energetically demonstrates a slide and snap of the feet, and discusses the psychology behind Hook’s actions. She turns to stage left. “Lean into the girl,” she instructs the pirates surrounding Wendy (Andreley Bjelland and Tori Adams), which they do threateningly. When Elizabeth Chaigne speaks, students stop  and listen. Students don’t seem to mind the public critiques and suggestions for their performance. Co-director Beth Solberg says, “Time is short. They get it fast.” Students learn to listen to directions and to listen to each other. They manage the spaces around them as they sing and dance on stage to the live musical accompaniment of Cathy Zajec and the choreography of Jolene Konkel. The stage whirls in organized chaos.

As the scenes are rehearsed, the stage crews supply sound effects, wrangle mikes and spot scenes with light. The crews are shown how to operate the equipment by professional sound and lighting designers, but manage the work themselves. New students are taught to run equipment and given responsibilities;  many return yearly to build on the skills they have learned. Crew students say the most important thing they learn is working as a team.

Many parents find themselves offering their skills and services to the theater department—and it shows. Beth Solberg grew up in a theater family, and became involved with theater at Valley View when her kids became thespians—one now a senior in the Edina High School Theater department. As well as co-director duties, she lends her skills to the design of the sets and the builds. Parent and student volunteers keep up the momentum. Deb Conover uses her background in costume design; Regina Neville contributes with her background in Theater Management. Peter Schmit and his daughter work every set build together. The set build area is a busy place. Volunteers paint scenery, build frames, and transform crushed paper and chicken wire into rocks, trees, and Peter Pan’s secret Neverland hide-out.

It’s a community effort. The results of months of preparation and hard work can be seen this week in four performances at the Edina Performing Arts Center, 6754 Valley View Road (across the parking lot from the Valley View Middle School.). Peter Pan show times are Thursday April 12, Friday April 13, and Saturday April 14 at 7pm. There is also a matinee performance on April 14 at 1:00pm. 

Ticket information can be found at or tickets may be purchased at the door. 

Let Tinkerbell and her dancers throw a little pixie dust and transport you to the magic of Neverland and Peter Pan!

Elizabeth Franklin