Series shines bright

Students in the seventh and eighth grades from across the county were invited this week to see this one-woman play about Harriett Tubman, as part of the Class Acts-Sampson CenterStage series.

Over the last 15 years, more than 100,000 students have been positively impacted by the Class Acts Sampson CenterStage series. This past week, more than 8,000 of those students made their way into the Agri-Exposition Center for one of this season’s shows.

According to Ray Jordan, Expo Center director, the shows are presented in partnership with the local school systems and provided free of charge through corporate and community sponsorships.

“The Class Acts performances help our students with creative thinking,” Jordan stressed. “The students are exposed to something different and offered a different point of view, and their way of thinking is challenged.”

Community sponsors say they agree with Jordan, and for that reason continue to support a program that introduces Sampson County students to the performing arts in an educational and entertaining setting.

“Sampson CenterStage brings programs to kids that might not otherwise get to see live theater,” stressed Dr. Amy Howerton, a community sponsor. “I love the variety of programs they bring. The programs for the younger children promote literacy through story-telling. The programs for the older children present social studies, and science in interesting formats. Study after study shows that children exposed to the arts and theater perform better academically, are more involved in community and less likely to drop out of school. I’m very happy to be able to support a program such as this.”

Performances are offered to students in grades 1-8 in Clinton City Schools, Sampson County Schools and Harrells Christian Academy. In the 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.

The 100,000th student was honored during the Tuesday, April 21 show for seventh and eighth graders. Hobbton Middle student Anna Sutton and her social studies teacher Mark Godwin were recognized.

“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.”

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.”

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.

“It’s important for students to be able to experience different art forms,” said Kara Donatelli, executive director of the Sampson Arts Council and community sponsor.

As a community sponsor of the Class Acts, Donatelli says she appreciates the fact that the students are learning when watching the performances, but able to have fun at the same time.

“Attending the live performances makes a huge impact on the students,” Donatelli shared. “You never know, these shows could spark a child to be something one day.”

Many students say they enjoyed the performances and learned from them at the same time.

“We learned about the solar system and an interesting fact about each planet,” fourth-grade student Emma Hobson shared following Thursday’s show, Janet’s Planet. “Some people were picked to pretend they were in outer space picking up titanium rocks. It was a great time.”

Carter Brewen, another fourth-grade student who attended Thursday’s show, reitereated Hobson’s enjoyment.

“Today was a fun and interesting way to learn about our solar system.”

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. There is a possibility of relaunching the adult series this year.