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Drama students run an after-school program

By Julie Ooms

Creative Dramatics students, as a class, plan activities they can use in the after-school program they run for elementary students from Kinsey Elementary School in Sioux Center.

Creative Dramatics students, as a class, plan activities they can use in the after-school program they run for elementary students from Kinsey Elementary School in Sioux Center.

Twice a week after school, students from Kinsey Elementary School of Sioux Center get the chance to become pirates, kings, soldiers, and runaway slaves and take a journey through a world of learning quite unlike those most people are familiar with. This experience comes to them courtesy of Professor Jeri Schelhaas and the students in her Creative Dramatics class, an education elective that explores how drama can be used to jumpstart and enhance learning.

The program started at Kinsey three years ago as an after-school drama club, but could no longer be held at the school after two years because of budget cuts. This year, the First Reformed Church of Sioux Center is hosting the program, allowing the Kinsey students—and Dordt students—to continue learning through pantomime, theatre games, verbal exercises, interviews, and debates.

“Drama lets the kids live in the world they’re learning about,” Schelhaas says about the program, which Dordt students participate in as a part of the Creative Dramatics class. “It helps them come to care about what they’re learning and makes the learning real.”

Schelhaas describes creative dramatics as an example of active learning, in which students ask questions and act out scenes in order to arrive at information rather than passively receiving it through lecture. For example, one day Schelhaas and her students (two students accompany her each time the program is held, and the whole class rotates in pairs until everyone has participated at least twice) will ask the students to pretend they are runaway slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad. How are they feeling? Are they sad, angry, or frightened? When will they leave? Will the moon be shining the night they escape? What kinds of food should they bring? Such a strategy makes students ask questions and, as a result, turn to their textbooks for answers.

Creative dramatics helps students realize that they are not learning just about events and dates and places, but about real people. “Students pretend their way into a lot of knowledge,” Schelhaas says.

The program also benefits the Dordt students in Schelhaas’ class—most of them are education majors, but some are theatre or even youth ministry majors. The students learn how to work with kids, how to plan lessons and execute them, and, perhaps most importantly, how to think on their feet. The course also offers Dordt students an opportunity to teach prior to their semester of student teaching, and helps them to realize their own talents as they use them to benefit others.

Above all, the program makes learning fun. “Delight is an important part of creation,” Schelhaas says emphatically. “God created us to delight in the world, in each other. Creative dramatics helps students delight in learning.”