It’s been two years since Thomas Mifflin Elementary School lost its music teacher after deep budget cuts to public education. But in the spirit of theater, teachers and students alike are learning firsthand that the show must go on.
Even without the assistance of a music teacher, the school is still producing its spring music show. It’s an annual tradition that Principal Leslie Mason said she hopes to continue every year, despite the economic or theatrical challenges.
“It’s important to the school, and it’s important as a learning tool,” Mason explained at Friday’s show. “It’s not just singing and dancing. We put learning into it.”
Part of that learning now includes the school’s instructors having to teach music lessons, something most didn’t have to worry about just a few years ago. ”
“The class teachers took it on because there’s no money,” Mason said.
But students took to the stage, which sits in the school’s new gym – remodeled six years ago – with an indomitable spirit of confidence, pride and talent. Whether they were waving their fingers back-and-forth to the lively tune of “RESPECT,” cha-cha sliding across stage or jamming to Michael Jackson hits, students donned garments from each song’s respective decade. The show’s theme, “A Journey Through Decades,” brought every grade to the stage, each performing a song from a different decade.
“Getting the boys to dance was a challenge,” said Terrance Booker, who lead the fifth grade boys’ dance to Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You.”
The historical icons behind the famous tunes also serve as good role models to the students, like Aziz Timms.
“Michael Jackson is the person who inspired me, because I want to be a dancer,” said Timms, who played Jackson in the fifth grade’s performance of “Rock With You.”
“He’s the start of pop,” he added.
Fifth grade teacher, Wendy Borton, said challenging the students with the history of the time coupled with learning the choreography of the dances were all part of the fun.
“Putting together the show teaches us how to work together and how to be a team player. My students did their own choreography and that allows them to show their own talent and really contribute to the whole show,” Borton said.
“Kids today, they don’t appreciate that you can’t just freestyle all the time,” second grade teacher Marta Ciccimaro said with a chuckle. Her class performed the “Charlestown,” which “came from Charleston, South Carolina. That’s how it got the name of it,” Ciccimaro explained.
“We learned the history of the song, what kind of clothes the people wore from then, the culture. We had a lot of fun putting the show together.”
More budgets cuts from the state to public education from 2011 decreased spending to all students in the Philadelphia School District by $1,406 per student, according to the Education Law Center. Still, with $8 million in recent upgrades to Mifflin and a commitment from the school’s staff to maintain the school’s traditions, staff members say the spring music show will go on for many more years.