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VOL. 127 | NO. 43 | Friday, March 02, 2012

GUMC, School Unite for ThinkShow Production

By Aisling Maki

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The audience for Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary School’s production of “Treemonisha,” an adaptation of a musical written by African-American ragtime composer Scott Joplin, included a few guests that surprised and delighted the children performing.

Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary School fifth graders Mykah Moody, Lonzo Remus and Jamel Edmonds starred in an adaptation of Scott Joplin’s musical “Treemonisha” Thursday.

(Photo: Nicki Newburger)

Memphis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash, Shelby County Schools Superintendent John Aiken and Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy were among those in attendance for the musical Thursday, March 1.

“Treemonisha,” which featured more than 50 fifth-grade students, tells the story of a young African-American girl in 1880s Arkansas who brings the power of knowledge and education back to her rural community.

Produced in partnership with Germantown United Methodist Church, the play was part of Memphis City Schools’ ThinkShow, an all-day, citywide event showcasing student knowledge through creative projects.

Dressed in period costumes that included long skirts, shawls and aprons for the girls and denim trousers, bandanas and straw hats for the boys, students performed amid a stage set – designed by the school’s art teacher – featuring trees, cornstalks and other rural scenery.

The school’s youngest children sat quietly captivated, watching their older schoolmates act, sing and dance to numbers featuring elements of opera, early blues, spirituals and traditional African-American folk songs.

“They have the flexibility and the autonomy to do whatever they think will represent what they’ve been learning,” Cash said, before heading out to see several other ThinkShow projects at district schools. “For this school and this fifth grade here at Caldwell-Guthrie to decide to do a play in collaboration with Germantown United Methodist is the way they’re representing their learning. … ‘Treemonisha’ was a great exemplar of what ThinkShow was intended to be.”

Fifth grader Mykah Moody, who played the production’s title role of Treemonisha, said this season’s ThinkShow was slightly different from previous ones.

“You never know what you’re going to expect from a ThinkShow project,” Moody said. “We used to do projects that just involved writing or math, but this involved social studies, science, math and reading. It actually helps out with our grades and everything, and it was just a really good experience.”

Through its Urban Haven Project ministry, GUMC has a solid community partnership with principal LaWanda Hill and the teachers and students at North Memphis’ Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary. More than 60 volunteers regularly serve as tutors and mentors to students.

“We’ve been doing this for four years and it’s been an evolution,” said GUMC volunteer Shirlie Clark, who praised the school’s administration for embracing the volunteers. “We started coming in and doing a reading program, and people kept telling us they wanted an ongoing relationship with the children. We know we’re making a difference in their lives because their eyes light up and they come meet us at the door.”

GUMC provided costuming and funding for “Treemonisha.” Church volunteer and writer Jackie Flaum adapted the script age-appropriately from a script previously used by Opera Memphis, while church member Shirley Gee, a former drama teacher, served as the production’s director.

“I think the broader story of what you hear between the city and the county is not necessarily about positive things happening,” Clark said. “There are pockets of people coming together for the sake of the children. This project just took on a life of its own and they have just done a beautiful job.”

The Caldwell-Guthrie students will perform “Treemonisha” again Friday, March 2, at 7 p.m. at Germantown United Methodist Church’s Owings Life Enrichment Center.

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