The annual Spring Arts Festival is a tradition at many an elementary school. Paintings, drawings and sculptures are displayed throughout campuses, and talented kids standing on risers sing their hearts out before audiences of friends, family and faculty marveling at how far they've come in a school year's time.
Sunray Elementary music teacher Debra McCann knows well how much goes into that one performance with 75 students memorizing all those songs along with the choreography that's been rehearsed for hours on weekday mornings before the buses arrive.
This year McCann, who has been teaching at the school since it first opened 14 years ago, wanted to add a memorable twist to the event while engaging her students in a new way. Her idea was to create a documentary of the making of a community performance that would be filmed by chorus students who knew how to work the technology from time spent using iPads, computers and digital cameras in their classrooms.
"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool to put together something that would show all the backstage stuff that goes in to putting in a performance?' " McCann said, noting the added benefit of giving students the opportunity to work the cameras. "I think including technology as part of your school day pulls the interest of the children."
McCann made arrangements for the chorus to perform for residents at the Sunshine Christian Home Assisted Living Facility in Holiday, being sure to select music that would appeal to an older generation — tunes such as The Charleston, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music along with an introduction to one of the kids' favorites, Katie Perry's Roar.
"I thought it was important for the students not to just sing to them, but to meet someone who is from an entirely different generation," McCann said. "I wanted to expose them to new experiences as well as meeting people outside their typical circle."
Then she pulled in fourth-grade teacher Michele Skelly, who uses iPads on a daily basis in her classroom. She assisted students in creating and editing the documentary from the first rehearsal on Jan. 29 to the performance on May 5.
Skelly thought it was a bit of an undertaking, but jumped on board.
"At the beginning I was thinking, 'I don't know how we're going to do this,' " Skelly said. "But in the end I was so proud."
Students filmed the rehearsals, took photographs and interviewed fellow chorus students, their teacher and their principal.
"In chorus we're just used to practicing, practicing, practicing," said videographer and chorus member Matthew Watkins, 11. "This gave it a different perspective with the documentary."
On the day of the community concert, students were filming the bus ride to and from the Sunshine Christian Home as well as audience members who had been anticipating the students' arrival.
While Skelly filmed the concert from start to finish, after the very last song — So Long, Farewell — students grabbed their iPads and cameras and began meeting, greeting and interviewing the seniors.
"There were absolutely perfect, delightful," said Sunshine resident Dorothy Hoffman. "I enjoyed every minute of it."
So did the students.
"I think this is the first time we came out (into the community) to do a concert," said Benjamin McQuatters, 11, after interviewing and taking pictures of Sunshine residents Olita Bush and Mary Miller. "It's great that we can show our parents how we presented ourselves to the people on the field trip."
"It's a wonderful thing," Miller said. "It brings back memories. It really does."
The final product, titled Music Through the Decades, premiered on May 20 at Sunray Elementary's Spring Arts Fest.
"It was great out-of-the-box thinking," said chorus member Jade Truong, 11. "I thought it was a great idea to entertain the elderly and meet and greet with them. Videotaping it all made it different."
And while months of hard work and the culminating concert has been captured on film, McCann's thought is that it will be stored as well in the minds of her students.
"I'm hoping this will be an experience that they will highlight their years at Sunray," she said. "I'm hoping that it will be a great memory for them."
Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected]