Fifth and sixth grade students from across the county filled the seats at the Sampson Agri-Exposition Center Monday and Tuesday as part of the annual Class Acts Sampson CenterStage series.
Over the last 16 years, more than 100,000 students have been positively impacted by the series through shows presented in partnership with the local school systems and provided free of charge through corporate and community sponsorships.
This week, nearly 8,200 more students were able to experience the magic and excitement of attending one of eight live performing arts events. Students in grades first-eighth are invited to attend the shows.
“The Class Acts performances help our students with creative thinking,” Ray Jordan, executive director of the Sampson County Exposition Center, stressed. “The students are exposed to something different and offered a different point of view, and their way of thinking is challenged.”
According to Jordan, the performances are not only entertaining, but also provide the students with an opportunity to learn in a creative atmosphere that adds to and enhances each student’s total educational experience.
Sunset Avenue fifth grade student Marlee Johnson called the experience exciting and interactive.
“Students were able to perform with the actor,” Johnson said. “It is important to have events like this so we can learn important events in science, history, etc… in an interesting way.”
Johnson, along with fellow student Carter Brewen, were two of hundreds of fifth graders who attended the show Monday morning about 20 characters, including Henry “Box” Brown, a black slave who mails himself to freedom in a small wooden box.
“It was a very good play and it was funny,” Brewen said. “It taught us about slavery and how one slave escaped and it was still enjoyable to watch.”
Performances are offered to students in grades 1-8 in Clinton City Schools, Sampson County Schools and Harrells Christian Academy. In the first 15 years of presenting the live shows, Jordan said 105,960 students have been able to attend Class Acts performances and the community has contributed over $400,000 to support the system.
Hobbton Middle student Anna Sutton was recognized last year as the 100,000th student to attend the series.
“It’s important that our students are offered the different opportunities that Class Acts provides,” Jordan said. “Not only are the shows fun, they are educational. When choosing which performances we bring, we always look at the curriculum and make sure it applies to each grade level.”
According to Jordan, annually, between 8,000-8,200 students visit the Expo Center to attend live performances specifically designed for their grade level and curriculum alignments. Teachers are provided study guides for each performance before hand, which are designed to educate as well as enhance the theater-going experience of each student.
Shows address the many subject areas such as math, literature, reading, music, art, character education, science and social studies.
“Class Acts allows the students this experience close to home with no cost to the student,” Jordan added. “Every kid is able to attend.”
Board members agree with Jordan. Gerald Warren, Sampson County Exposition Center board member and a resident of Newton Grove, called the series a great opportunity for all students.
” Many of the students from across Sampson County would not have the opportunity to attend these type performances if it were not for this series,” he said. “These types of events would not be possible because of the lack of funding provided for the arts in our schools. The series adds an additional educational opportunity for our children — tomorrow’s leaders.”
At the end of each Class Acts season, Jordan said the students send thank you cards. Cards are also sent to some of the community and business sponsors.
“This means a lot to us and the sponsors,” Jordan said. “It helps us raise money for the series.”
All money raised each year helps provide eight live performances and any funds remaining are carried over for the next year. In addition to the sponsorships, fundraisers have been held in the past and Jordan said others are being sought at the present time.
The Class Acts started as a way to grow a local audience for the adult Performing Arts series, which started in 1999-2000 and was suspended in 2009 amid a downed economy. The adult series was relaunched this year.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.