By Stacey Bomser
“Free to be You and Me” is the theme this year at Manatee Bay Elementary. Students are encouraged to be themselves and accept others for who they are too. Part of the groundwork for this was laid last year when Ms. Haley’s and Mrs. Stokes’ fourth grade classes presented plays promoting social skills and anti-bullying messages.
“I have a great passion for reaching the whole child in the climate of high stakes testing,” explains Ms. Haley. “Fourth grade standards include speaking and listening, and what better way to teach those skills than through a play?”
Ms. Haley’s homeroom performed Bullies Anonymous, which explored the actions bullies take (physical, verbal, social and cyber) and provided effective tools to prevent bullying, while Mrs. Stokes’ class performed Social Skills, which taught students the importance of listening to others, learning body language and social cues, and thinking before they speak or act. Both plays were written and composed by Bad Wolf Press.
This project was entirely student-driven. Ms. Haley says the children were expected to learn their lines and songs by a certain date, and work with their groups to develop costumes, set and props, and choreography.
She says at one point she almost cancelled the plays because of lack of preparation and effort from several of the students. “This led to a serious conversation and an open floor classroom debate. They took it on themselves, each sharing how they felt. They were open, honest, and exposed.”
The following day, the classes were invited to watch a play by Mrs. Jefferson’s homeroom. After seeing how well those students had worked together, Ms. Haley says her students quickly decided they could as well. “They started chanting, ‘If they can do it, so can we!’ Students who knew their lines started helping those who didn’t. Some groups asked others to show them some dance moves. Others joined forces to sketch out their costumes and prop pieces. What happened before my eyes was unbelievable!”
In the end, the classes put on impressive performances for their parents and other classes.
“The play was an integral part in building my daughter’s confidence for future public speaking opportunities,” shared Mary Hartnett. “It was also instrumental in showing the children how important each role is in a team atmosphere. Everybody has to do their part for it to work out in the end.”
Diana Guarin said being part of this performance was an enriching experience for her son. “This was a much better way of learning than a regular and traditional approach to realize the importance of having good social skills.”
The plays’ messages about preventing bullying and interacting appropriately with others were not lost on the children. Following the final performance, Mrs. Jefferson’s class was asked to stay behind to provide feedback. “Students shared with each other what they liked about their plays and made suggestions on what they could do to make future performances even more stellar,” explains Ms. Haley. “For teachers, this may have been the most amazing moment – seeing the students compliment and encourage each other.”