Elementary school students make music, memories while being introduced to the arts

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- This past semester, about 300 students at five different Southern California elementary schools were given the chance to become musical theatre stars.

With the help of the nonprofit program "Disney Musicals in Schools," and the Center Theatre Group, the kids were able to make music and memories while starting to develop a love for the arts.

After 16 weeks of hard work, these talented students ended up on stage at the famed Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. But for the students at Humphreys Elementary School in L.A., it's been quite a journey to get there.

"This is actually my first play I've been in," said Alesa Lopez, a fifth grader at Humphreys.

Under the guidance from teaching artists from the Center Theatre Group and "Disney Musicals in Schools," the students not only put on a show - in this case "The Jungle Book" - their teachers are getting trained to put on programs for years to come.

"Unfortunately, due to budget constraints our ability to provide opportunities are limited," Humphreys Principal Alejandra Almaguer said. "The 'Disney Musicals in Schools' has brought us the other layer and we'll have a sustainable program here for many years."

Jessica Winward is one of the teaching artists who spent the spring with the students at Humphreys.

"We are completely invested in their success," Winward said. "The amount of passion and joy my partner and I have to help these people and this school and this community get access to this is incredible, and I'm so lucky to be a part of it."

From the students, to the teachers, to the administration, there's plenty for everyone to learn with this musical theatre program.

"When I'm in the theatre I learned how to give respect, to get respect, and how to share with others," Lopez said.

"I learned that you have to talk and collaborate with others to get the show done," said Christopher August-Jones, a third grader at the school.

"It's a lot of work," said Douglas Zamora, a teacher at Humphreys. "And sometimes as adults we get tired, but when we see those sparkling eyes in the students, when we see the growth, their singing, their dancing, their acting has improved - that's our reward."

So after months of hard work at rehearsals in the auditorium at Humphreys, the children got to perform for their families and friends on stage at the school. Then finally, with kids from the other participating schools, they performed at the Ahmanson Theatre for a night called "Student Share."

"I hope this continues to inspire our students to see what the arts can bring into their lives," said Gaby Mendoza, a dance teacher at Humphreys. "And to take those skills that they're learning here and use them in every aspect of life. We are 100 percent and beyond committed to the arts here at Humphreys."

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