Miller Elementary Theater Program Boosts English Proficiency

By On March 25, 2015

The fifth-grade students in teacher Melissa Pamperin’s class at Joaquin Miller Elementary buzz with excitement as they prepare for their final performance of Penelope and the Pirates. The Miller Elementary theater program has become a touchstone of the school’s integrated arts programs, as the school received the California Exemplary Arts Education honor last year.

“The play tells the story of a pathetic posse of pirates that has lost the one and only treasure they’ve ever managed to find and the princess who runs away from home with her ladies in waiting in hopes of having at least one great adventure in her life,” commented Pamperin, who also wrote the story specifically for the fifth-grade production.

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

“Unfortunately for Penelope, she ends up choosing Captain Milligan’s ship to stowaway on and they’ve shipwrecked onto a deserted island,” Pamperin added. “After declaring that she’s had it with their pessimism she whips them into shape. They find the lost treasure and she and Captain Milligan’s son, who had never wanted to be a buccaneer in the first place, live happily ever after running a floating library on board the pirate ship.”

Melanie Josephian, age 10, portrayed Penelope the Princess and thought that the scene in which Penelope trains the pirates to be better pirates, set to the theme song from Rocky, was her favorite. The pirates are pretty pathetic – one is afraid of fish, another can’t read a map.

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

“I thought it was a very fun experience,” commented Jake Bastian, age 11, who played pirate Captain Milligan. “It was really fun to do the shows because we had been working on it since January and it was a lot of hard work and it all paid off. Everybody laughed.”

“It was really funny and everybody in the audience was laughing and sometimes I laughed on stage too,” added Josephian, who’s been bitten by the acting bug. “I liked that Penelope always thought her own things and had her own path. I really like to act; it’s what I want to do.”

Ethan Consignado, age 10, portrayed the captain’s son, Jack Millgan.

“It was easy to identify with the role because I like to read and my character likes to read,” he said. “My favorite scene is the Rocky scene, where the pirates are training to find the treasure.”

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

“This group of kids has been incredible to work with,” commented Pamperin, who also directed the play. “From the very first audition, I knew we had something special when I was having a hard time deciding who to cast in what parts because they were all so talented.”

“Every single note I’ve given them, they’ve taken on within seconds and they’ve created a truly unique experience,” she continued. “All of the hard work that the kids put into every rehearsal culmination in an amazing production. I was incredibly proud to watch their work and I know that they were proud as well.”

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

Burbank Arts For All Foundation Executive Director Trena Pitchford and many of the BAFA board members, along with BUSD officials and Miller Principal Judy Hession, attended Thursday’s show in the school auditorium. Students from the New York Film Academy filmed the rehearsals and behind the scenes work during the final week of production, along with the entire performance opening night.

A BAFA grant helped Pamperin stage the performance. Pamperin mentioned that studies have shown theater programs can result in faster and more thorough English proficiency achievement for young English Language Learners.

“Many of my students have been ELL at some point,” commented Pamperin. “But, by fourth and fifth grade, all of my students have been reclassified as English proficient.”

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

(Photo By Ross A. Benson)

Miller’s English Language Learners total 32% of the student population currently, according to ELD Office Specialist Ana Arzumanyan. That percentage includes children who have been reclassified as English proficient, as they are tracked for two years following proficiency achievement.

Miller Elementary’s teachers, supported by grants from BAFA, have integrated arts and theater instruction into daily classroom work. Recently, National Endowment for the Arts Chair Jane Chu and several officials from the L.A. County Arts Commission, visited Miller Elementary to see their state-honored arts programs in action.