Reading program puts McKees Rocks kids on stage

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Teachers work hard to motivate children to read, and they get a big assist when young readers get to take to a stage.

That's what's happening in McKees Rocks through the Readers Theater Program, which encourages students to "bring words and characters from the page to the stage," said Maggie Johnson, interim director of the Father Ryan Arts Center of Focus on Renewal.

With a $10,000 grant from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, third-graders from St. Malachy School in Kennedy and Sto-Rox Elementary spend once-a-week reading periods in the fall at the arts center.

Under the guidance of a trained theater arts educator, the center works closely with third-grade teachers to develop a curriculum based on the work of children's author and Readers Theater expert Aaron Shepard, Ms. Johnson said.

Students work individually and in groups "with scripts, collaborating with each other, arts center artists and staff, reading aloud and sharing literature," said Greg Quinlan, Focus on Renewal executive director. "It definitely increases the motivation of our students. This encourages the students to express themselves. We do that in the classroom, but on stage it's totally different."

Age-appropriate children's stories are used, and students become familiar with the story, the vocabulary and pronunciation ahead of time before they get up on stage, said Janet Katic, a teacher at St. Malachy, which has been participating for four years. "They read their parts. They do not memorize."

They also work with a visual arts teacher to make simple costumes. A child portraying a frog, for example, would wear a green visor -- not a full-blown costume. They may wear different colored T-shirts for various roles, sometimes with minor embellishments. They also make simple scenery.

More than 1,000 children have taken part in the program since it started in 2008, Mr. Quinlan said. The program helps students "by developing their creative-problem solving skills, improving their reading fluency and ultimately increasing their test scores."

Focus on Renewal would love to see the fall program expanded to more students and school districts.

"We hope it continues. With the grant, our only cost is paying for the buses to get them there," Mr. Quinlan said. "Our third-grade teachers are always excited as the fall programming begins."

Sto-Rox Elementary School principal Maurice Wigley said students "have been privileged to participate in the Readers Theater for several years -- in the most beautiful facility in the area."

The program, in turn, is benefiting students, Ms. Katic said.

"I have seen an improvement in interest in reading," the teacher said.

Information: or 412-771-3052.


Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-722-0087.


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