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Teachers prep for ambitious Black History Month program

fairview black history 2_24_14

Fairview Elementary fifth-graders Moneyea Henderson, center, Trejon Jones, left, and Marcus Frison, right, practice a dance routine Monday for the school's Black History Month program. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

By
From page A1 | February 26, 2014 |

FAIRFIELD — Sophia White, a fourth-grader at Fairview Elementary School, is determined to not let stage fright get the best of her at the school’s Black History month show.

Sophia has a solo song in the performance, “Go Down Moses.”

“I sang in four choirs before, but I just stayed in the back, hiding,” she said.

The spotlight will be on Sophia during the three free performances – 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and 8:30 and 9:45 a.m. Thursday. The public is invited.

Her backup plan was in place at Tuesday afternoon’s rehearsal. If she gets nervous, Sophia said she’ll just close her eyes or take off her glasses. The  latter, she added, will make the audience appear blurry.

“They’ll look like blobs,” she said.

She is one of seven singers under the direction of Fairview teacher Andrea McFarland. The show is an ambitious undertaking by teacher Carmel Onick, with assistance from another teacher, Melanie Laws.

Onick minored in dance in college and danced with some Los Angeles-based dance companies. She also taught ballet and jazz to students as young as 2.

About 35 students are involved in the show, which features narration, dancing and music. The script was penned by Onick and covers the years from the 1400s to the present. She said she included a lot of historical information, hoping the audience will leave the show having learned something new.

There are costumes, choreography and even a slave ship painted on cardboard.

“In my 30 years of teaching, I’ve never seen anything on this level,” Laws said.

Some of the performers have a few costume changes. Aaleija Thomas, a fifth-grader, is an African dancer in the opening number. From there, she heads to Onick’s classroom, close to the stage, to change into an all-white outfit for the praise dance.

Aaelija, who learned African dancing by watching shows featuring it, said the story is close to her heart, particularly when the slave trade comes to life on stage.

“These people couldn’t get out of the situation (they were in),” she said of slavery. “They were taken away from their homes by people who just wanted to trade them.”

Lillianna Richardson, a third-grader, also dances in the show. She learned African dance from her sister.

“Dancing is natural for me,” she said. “I love dancing. I want to dance (professionally) when I grow up.”

The students and teachers have put a lot of time into the show. Preparation began in November. Rehearsals were held on weekends and over winter break.

Even with hours of practice under her belt, singer Adria Supriano wasn’t taking any chances on Tuesday. She had written some of the song lyrics on her hand so she wouldn’t forget them at rehearsal.

Fifth-graders Caleb Turley and Elijah Phillips are two of the six-man stage crew. Their tasks include moving shiny blue fabric across the stage to resemble the ocean traveled by the slave ships. They will also help watch the door closest to the stage, so there is plenty of room for the dancers and actors to move about.

“I like to help,” Elijah gave as his reason for pitching in.

Laws and Onick worked together on last year’s Black History Month program, which focused more on vocal performances.

In addition to sharing the word about black history, the program also gives the students a chance to showcase their musical and dance skills.

“We don’t have music and PE at the school,” Laws said.

Onick saw the program as an opportunity for the students, to express themselves in positive ways.

“They need to have a chance to shine,” she said.

It also gives her and Laws a chance to work students who are not in their classrooms.

“It’s different from the day-to-day teaching,” Laws said. “I have bonded with some of the kids I did not teach.”

Her hope is that those who see the show will come to realize they can do great things, Laws said.

The school is at 830 First St.

Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey joined the staff of the Daily Republic in 1980. She’ll tell you she was only 3 at the time. Over the past three decades she’s done a variety of jobs in the newsroom. Today, she covers arts and entertainment and writes for the Living and news pages.
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  • Suisun1February 26, 2014 - 8:03 am

    Looks like an incredible program! I will try and bring my family. Very heart-warming to hear teachers going the extra mile in an environment of relentless budget cuts, especially in music and arts programs. I have a 1-year old daughter and hope she encounters teachers like Ms. Onick and Ms. Laws.

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