Tuesday, February 19, 2013

This Place is Like a Three Ring Circus!

Every year at  Bear Tavern Elementary School we have a very special week; Circus Week! You may be thinking, "why devote a week to the circus?"  Well, I guess I'll need to give a little background to explain that.

In the winter we have artists-in-residence from Circus Kid Productions come in to work with our students.  Basically, our schedule gets blown up and rearranged so that all of our students in K-4 have workshops with with them and the 5th graders work more intensively with them on various circus skills from Monday through Friday in order to put on a circus performance for the entire school Friday afternoon and then on Friday evening for the parents.  Parents sign an agreement indicating that they understand that students must make up work missed when they are out of the classroom for their practices (and we have always had 100% participation in the 10 years I have been at Bear Tavern!)

But why?  It seems like a lot of time to spend on circus skills.  Most who hear about it don't understand until they've experienced the week.  The younger students anxiously await their 5th grade year so that they can be a part of the circus.  The parents eagerly wait for their children to participate since they have heard about it for years and want their children's excited dreams to be fulfilled.

So the question still remains, "why does a school principal value circus week so much?"  Simple; because of the intangibles that are learned during this week.  The best analogy that I can think of is the NFL draft.  When teams are evaluating players for their draft boards, they look at the numbers and the data to find players who are statistically successful players.  However, they all talk about a player's intangibles like character, leadership, perseverance, team-orientation, drive, work-ethic, respect, demeanor, to name a few. These intangibles can often be more important than the stats.  Let's face it, whether your a Patriots fan or not, Tom Brady was taken in the 6th round for some reason and it wasn't just his numbers.  That has worked out pretty well.

The skills that our 5th grade students learn during this week are the intangibles that lead to future success.  Doug and Eric, our circus coaches, bring out the best in our students through the medium of circus skills.  All you have to do is ask anyone who works with 5th grade to find out just how amazing this week is for the students.  I think that one of the most subtle and striking character lessons that is evident from the first day is the support that each student shows for the group.  Everyone is responsible for the success of the show and thus they must take care of one another to make that happen.

This means that when someone drops a ball during juggling or trips during an acrobatic performance, the rest of the group cheers them on and encourages them to keep trying until they get it.  It is heartwarming to hear classmates cheering for one another when they "get it!"  Generally, the normal reaction when some one makes a mistake is giggling or some form of ridicule, but there is none of that.  The boys and girls learn empathy and understand that others feel just like them when they make a mistake.  This makes it harder to find fault and more natural to support.

Another amazing thing that I see during this week is perseverance.  It is incredible to see the focus of the most distracted students when it comes to perfecting the globe walking or diabolo routines.  They are so eager to succeed in this performance and contribute to the overall circus that they practice and keep practicing until they can do it!  Also, we see the emergence of natural leaders.  They may or may not be the best circus performers; however, they help ensure that everyone is on task and moving in the right direction.

This is the week that signifies the coming of spring for me.  I know that Punxatawny Phil has some role in the prediction, but the BT Circus week is the week that I see our 5th graders truly become a cohesive group; they are the epitome of a community.  I think this week also reminds them that they need to support each other when they move up to middle school and have to navigate a larger population.  This year even our 5th grade teachers got involved in the action and performed with the children.  It was fantastic.

We also weave other disciplines into Circus Week.  Our students create artwork that adorns the gymnasium.  Our students write about their circus experience during language arts.  It becomes a topic of discussion in all classrooms during Morning Meeting.

Fortunately, our parents and our PTO see the benefits of this program.  They help to support it by helping children practice at home and helping to raise funds to pay for the program.  If you have not had the circus at your school, I'd highly recommend it!
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