It’s summer, but that doesn’t mean kids stop learning. Camps, excursions, and other experiences provide opportunities to explore interests, take on challenges, and exercise creativity.
Summertime and throughout the year, Great Salt Bay Community School students in grades 5-8 make up the majority of youth treading the boards at Heartwood Regional Theater Co.’s educational programs.
“Theater is such a creative outlet,” said Heidi Kopishke, actor and fifth grade English language arts and social studies teacher at GSB. “It pulls together so many diverse students who bond over the process of creating these characters, places and stories to share.”
Kopishke has been a teacher for 18 years, 17 of them at GSB.
“I’ve always worked ‘reader’s theater’ into my curriculum when I can,” she said. “This includes assigning characters from novels we’re reading in class to individual students and allowing them to read the dialogue out loud. My students really get into it. They use inflection and voices they normally wouldn’t if we were simply reading a book by having each student read a page out loud.”
Kopishke also directs a school play each spring for students in grades 4-6.
“The students really love to perform,” she said. “They need an audience. It’s amazing how much a performance comes to life when students have someone to share their gift with.”
Heartwood’s educational outreach originally made performances available to students by bringing acting troupes into the school to perform. At this time, Kopishke was working with local director, producer, and costumer, Sue Ghoreyeb, to put together a yearly children’s production, Winter Drama Adventure, which performed at various Midcoast theaters. Kopishke suggested combining her connection to GSB, the foundation Ghoreyeb put in place, and the experience and resources of Griff Braley, Heartwood artistic director.
“I knew we had something special,” Kopishke said.
The collaboration launched in 2014 with a production of “Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.”
“I had pushed for a particularly shy, quiet girl to be cast as the White Witch,” Kopishke said. “I knew she had something in her. When her fellow classmates and teachers came to see the production, their jaws dropped. Here was a young lady who barely spoke in school who was now playing this powerful character and owning the stage.”
Another performer from the inaugural production, Ryan Kohnert, went on to perform in many Heartwood shows, became a Heartwood intern running lights, studied theater at University of Southern Maine and is now Heartwood’s technical director. “And a talented actor as well,” added Kopishke.
“Many parents have contacted me through the years saying their child has been struggling in school but when they joined the theater program – both with Heartwood and the GSB drama club – the struggle parents had getting their child to school each day went away,” Kopishke said. “Students look forward to going to school and staying after school to be in theater.”
Kopishke said parents are also impressed that their child has taken on a new challenge, stepped outside their comfort zone and found something they love doing.
For parents and caregivers, Kopishke has advice: “Encourage that shy kid you know to try something new, take your child to see live theater and come see some of the wonderful shows these students are putting on.”
(“Learning Together” is a monthly feature by the Great Salt Bay Parent Teacher Organization. GSB PTO supports students in their activities and aids staff and school programs. Membership is automatic for all parents, teachers, and administration. For more information, go to greatsaltbayschool.org/pto and follow GSB PTO on Facebook and Instagram.)