THE ISSUE: Nebraska City Public School After School Clubs.
LOCAL IMPACT: A wide array of after school clubs are enhancing the student experiences for Nebraska City students.
Students at Nebraska City Middle School are showing how involvement in an after school club can improve school experience and enrich a student’s life for the future.
One after school club at NCMS is taking on a project that hasn’t been attempted by the school. They’re doing a musical.
The musical club plans two free public performances of the musical Annie on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. at the Nebraska City High School Auditorium.
Musical club is just one of many clubs offered at the middle school and all of them have been given major emphasis. Marsha Biaggi serves as project director for the after school clubs and works with site coordinators at Northside (Pre-K to 2nd), Hayward (3rd to 5th) and the middle school (6th to 8th).
Offerings for student clubs range from hang out clubs, which give students a chance to socialize in a supervised environment, to cooking clubs, dancing clubs and homework clubs. The list goes on. If a student has an interest, there is probably a club for it or an opportunity to start a new club for that interest.
At a recent school board meeting, principals for each of the involved schools took turns giving positive reports on the growth of their after school clubs. Northside principal Brent Gaswick reported the greatest attendance for school clubs, but all three buildings showed a growth in terms of interest and participation.
It’s all about enriching the school experience and providing positive feedback. Craig Taylor, principal at the middle school, spoke about the importance of the school clubs at a pep rally at the school on Friday, Nov. 3. Taylor told the assembly that his goal was that every student in the school receive positive feedback from their involvement, whether that comes academically, as the result of participation in sports or the band or by involvement in an after school club.
At one point in the pep rally, Nebraska City Middle School Dean of Students Kaleb Walker asked for all the students involved in an after school club to stand and receive applause for their choice to be involved and active in student life outside of attending the regular classes.
Walker mentioned the musical club specifically and students in the production were given recognition. Walker encouraged everyone to go out to the high school and watch the students perform.
A group of 20-plus students and a strong support group are taking on a major commitment in planning and performing Annie this fall. Samantha Collins is serving as the director of the group.
Collins said plans for the musical began early in the school year with the selection of the production they would attempt to bring to life. That’s not an easy process. Collins said she looked over musicals with an eye toward ones that have the length, the musical content and the writing that would be perfect for middle school students.
Once she selected Annie and got the materials for the production, she began to plan the audition process and get the students their parts so that they could begin practices.
It was essential for students to commit to the process. Collins said she told the students that getting ready for a musical would require an after school commitment for four days of a five-day week. And Collins had to work around other activities, sports, and also be cognizant of a student’s need to focus on academics as well.
Zach Ottemann was a student who, despite being involved in football, was able to find a way to get to auditions and prepare for a part in the production.
Working around conflicts and getting commitment for kids in a just-for-fun style after school club can be tough. It also can be done.
“I would say probably 15 of those kids have never missed a practice,” said Collins.
Cadijohn Rivera joined the Nebraska City Public School family as a mid-year transfer student in 2016-17. Although she had never done a musical before, this sixth grade student was willing to give it a try. She auditioned and caught everyone’s attention immediately.
“She came in and it was like, ‘WOW! This is our Annie. We found her,’” Collins said.
That’s not to say that other students weren’t impressive in their auditions as well. Alexandria Horcasitas showed great voice talent and was thought of for the part of Annie. She instead proved the perfect fit for the part of Miss Hannigan.
Each student, Collins said, did a great job of embracing a role.
Students who went for the part of Annie and ended up taking on one of the orphan parts for the musical were not disappointed in the end.
“There were not a lot of sad faces for long,” Collins said. “They realized the fun things they could do with their character.”
One character for the production will be played by a Hayward “call up” in Addison Johnson, a third grader. Johnson was recommended for the production by Meri Meredith, the vocal music teacher at Northside. Johnson was in a musical at Northside last year. Meredith said Johnson did a good job and was very responsible in learning her part.
Practice and support
It takes a lot of help to put on a production the likes of Annie and the Nebraska City Middle School musical group has had a lot of that. Collins has gotten help from Biaggi, Stephanie Stanek, vocal music teacher at the middle and high school; Cathy Bare a member of the support staff at Hayward Elementary; Destiny Worthey, a student at Peru State College, and Nicole Collins, the daughter of Samantha Collins.
There is a lot of work for the group to do including keeping students on point and organized for practices and going outside of the school environment to find needed costume pieces that are budget friendly.
Also stepping in to help has been Edie Madsen, the former vocal music instructor at Hayward Elementary who stepped away from her job after last year to focus on her family. The production of Annie needed a piano player and an extra vocal music coach so Madsen volunteered.
Fernando Dominguez, a student at the high school wanted to help too. Collins talked to Dominguez about helping her with the sound board in the auditorium at the high school. He jumped at the chance. After all, such work is what Dominguez hopes to do as a career.
“My plan as of now for a career path is to work as a lead light or sound engineer for major productions. Also with that, I wanted to stay on the music side of things by also working as a music teacher for productions.
“This being said, I committed to helping with as much as possible,” said Dominguez.
“I have been in quite a few productions and have worked closely with the directors to gain a knowledge of theatrical productions.
“I am a choir kid so I have sung on this stage many times.
“I wish to pass on the knowledge that has been taught to me by my amazing directors. These kids are doing amazing and I am so thankful to be able to help them throughout the rest of this production,” said Dominguez.
What makes the production of Annie special is that it started as an after school club and grew into something larger.
Collins said initial reversals were done in the tight quarters of the middle school library. The kids grew into getting to use the stage at the high school auditorium and were excited because that bigger space allowed them to fan out and to do more.
Each of the school clubs have the flexibility to grow in interest or in direction based on the energy that students bring to it. Basically, these clubs fit the needs of the students small or great.
And the impact lasts.
Collins said she hopes that the students involved with musical club will be able to take their experiences and use the lessons learned for future endeavors. That could include the confidence of recalling lines and performing for the public. It could also be an encouragement to remain involved in drama activities through their school years and beyond.
“They’ve done such great work and they’ve come such a long way,” said Collins.