Lion is King at Oxford Elementary School

Oxford Elementary School students rehearse for "The Lion King Kids," which opens March 3.

Oxford Elementary School has enjoyed a collaborative relationship with Playhouse Square this fall to produce The Lion King Kids. Two Playhouse Square teaching artists are working with third- through fifth-graders weekly to help them experience literacy through the theatrical arts in a free after-school musical theater residency during the 2015-16 school year.
Oxford, which won this opportunity along with three schools in the Cleveland school district, has 60 students participating as members of the cast and stage crew. The rest of the Oxford school community will be helping prepare for performances through set creation, props and costuming for an early spring production of "The Lion King Kids," a 40-minute retelling of "The Lion King," incorporating components of the Broadway show.

Last spring, Patrick Carpenter, the Title 1 literacy leader at Oxford, wrote the grant for the Disney Musical in Schools (DMIS) program through Playhouse Square. Title 1 is a federal program that supports academic and curricular needs in schools with high poverty rates. Research has shown that arts education can help narrow the achievement gap in high-poverty schools.

Disney Musicals in School began in New York City in 2009 to give low-income students in urban public schools the kind of arts access that more-prosperous districts enjoy. This year, Disney chose Cleveland’s Playhouse Square because of its reputation as a world-class performing arts center and its dedication to arts education in Cleveland. Disney’s ultimate goal is to spark an ongoing theater program in schools by providing the training necessary for teachers to continue a tradition of theater education.

Daniel Hahn, vice president of community engagement and education at Playhouse Square, said Oxford stood out because of the school’s long-standing commitment to the arts. 

“Patrick Carpenter and his team have been bringing students to field trips at Playhouse Square for a long time,” Hahn said. “This year they have doubled their efforts. Oxford has shown a dedication to after-school programs like the talent show. That showed us an investment toward developing talent. There were a lot of schools that applied, and Oxford was a top contender.” 

"The Lion King Kids" performances at Oxford will be on Thursday and Friday, March 3 and 4, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, March 5, at 2 p.m. While public performances will take place at Oxford, there also will be a special Student Share celebration on Monday, March 7, at the Ohio Theater in Playhouse Square, at which each of the four participating schools will offer brief performances.

Oxford’s grant includes a curriculum program that ties in with the Common Core State Standards. Oxford plans to launch that portion of the program after the production, to build on the foundational themes of the show. Post-production leadership opportunities might include student cast members visiting younger grades to talk about the story of "The Lion King," exploring character traits and development.

“We've had an overwhelmingly positive response from our school and district community,” said Carpenter. “We are hoping to continue to collaborate with the broader community as this production takes shape. Being the one school outside of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to be chosen, this is an amazing opportunity for our Cleveland Heights-University Heights elementary schools to build a sustainable musical theater program for our students. Our students are learning a new way to express themselves and, we hope, some of our students are finding a lifelong love of musical theater.”

Future opportunities for Oxford students seem imminent. “We hope to continue our great partnership with Oxford," said Hahn. “It’s a terrific school.”

Patti Carlyle

Patti Carlyle is a writer, activist and Canterbury parent living in University Heights.

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Volume 9, Issue 1, Posted 4:47 PM, 12.30.2015