Center stage

Derrick Cookson takes center stage during a performance at Peoples Academy on Friday.

Remember that song?

In 1969, the children’s television program “Sesame Street” debuted a song that taught their young viewers about the people in their neighborhood, from the baker and the barber to the doctor and the dentist.

Fifty years later, Peoples Academy’s ninth-graders did the same thing, and in the process they created art.

On Friday, the students hosted an assembly that included both students and townspeople who were interviewed in a months-long effort to get students connected with the people who make the wheels of Mo’ville go round and round.

“We want to get students to understand that they’re an important part of the community, and that it takes all kinds of people to bring a community together and make it work,” said Carrie Felice, a guidance counselor at Peoples Academy.

“One of the first things we did was have students walk through downtown and just take an inventory of what people do,” Felice said.

Next, students interviewed business owners and other prominent members of the community to learn more about who they are.

“We just wanted to bring their stories together and realize that everybody has a story,” Felice said. “There’s this journey, right? There’s not this thing where you decide what you’re going to be and you just do. There’s so much more to that, and I think was really part of what they discovered. We wanted them to step outside their comfort zone and try something new and learn things like interview skills.”

One of the interview subjects was Caleb Magoon, owner of Power Play Sports.

“It was particularly interesting for me, because the young man who interviewed me is a customer at the store, so I know him and I know his whole family. It made it a little more personal and a little less formal,” Magoon said. “I love the idea of a collaboration between art and community members to give the students an opportunity and learn about the community and about art and culture.”

After gathering the information, students turned their interview subjects into art by painting their portraits on banners, many of which are hanging downtown.

“The banners were my part of the project,” said Averill McDowell, an art teacher at Peoples Academy. “We painted the faces of the people in our community. We took photos of the people we were going to be interviewing and then the kids generated them into pop-art styles, using the colors of the signs of the businesses they represent. The banners are now going downtown to hang on the light poles.

“The whole idea was to talk about what make our community, and that’s our local businesses,” McDowell continued. “We wanted to show the faces because we see the businesses, but we don’t necessarily know the faces behind the businesses.”

Last, the students wrote and performed short theatrical pieces dramatizing the lives of their interview subjects. On Friday, the ninth-graders performed these sketches in front of other students, and the people they had interviewed.

“I think those kids did an awesome job,” said Deb Papineau, owner of Deb’s Place. “I didn’t realize that was what those kids were doing. I was so glad they came here and the play was awesome.

“When I went into the auditorium, I was amazed how many people people were there from the community. It was incredible.”

After the performances, students discussed what the project meant to them.

“I thought the thought behind it was really well put together because it’s all about showing who makes our community our community,” said Max King. “I feel like it should have been a whole-school thing, because this is about what makes Morrisville Morrisville.”

King interviewed Dominique Gustin, executive director of River Arts.

“I didn’t really know that the main focus of of River Arts is to make art available to everyone,” King said. “I thought you had to make an appointment to get in, but it’s really open for everybody. You can go in at any time and talk to the faculty there and they’re super-nice people. It was really welcoming.”

Ninth-grader Lila Hancock said the project was challenging at times, but very rewarding.

“I thought the experience of interviewing a person, ending up with their stories, was pretty amazing,” Hancock said. “Just being able to take written words and turn them into performance, it was really fun how you could be really creative and take your ideas and talk with other students about them. It was really student-driven, which was really nice.”

However, it was challenging to turn those stories into performance pieces, Hancock said.

“It was kind of difficult. We had to find the main points in the story that had been written and see which ones were the most striking and what would make the best performance,” she said.

For the performances, the students received assistance from members of the Peoples Academy Stage Company, such as 10th-grader Cameron Chertoff.

“I jumped right in, because I love a chance to be involved,” Chertoff said. “I thought the idea behind it was so powerful because it’s stuff like this that connects our schools to our community and not only that, it does it so perfectly and nicely. I felt like that’s what really makes a community a community.”

Jim Curran, executive director of the United Way of Lamoille County and an interview subject, was impressed.

“The amount of thought put into this program by the students and faculty is amazing,” Curran said. “The artwork hanging in Morrisville, and the ability of the drama club to create a performance based on the interviews, is incredible.”

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