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The final curtain for 'Oz' at Newport Elementary

Newport Elementary School teacher Linda Schaack. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

Pictures of "The Wizard of Oz" cast members were on display at a silent auction held as 28 years of Linda Schaack's plays came to a close.

"Thanks for the memories," was posted on the many play photographs on display last week.

Auction proceeds will be used to pay for next year's class to attend a live theater production. It will also be Schaack's final curtain when she retires after 36 years of teaching a year from now.

Jake Lester, now a sixth-grader, attended the auction with his mother, Molly, a Newport Elementary School teacher specialist.

Jake portrayed Dorothy's Uncle Henry and was one of the soldiers when he was in third-grade. He remembers the part of the play where he marched onto the stage chanting "Oreos and milk."

Jake got interested in acting because of that experience.

"I learned to talk in front of crowd of people, too," he said, "and I lost my stage fright."

The public speaking piece of the play was very important, said his mother. Her neighbor's daughter was very shy and being in a play helped bring her out of her shell.

Learning to express oneself and be creative is "powerful stuff," Molly said. "It's also a skill for the workplace."

Ella Pederson was one of the play's narrators two years ago. "I made friends with a lot of people I wouldn't have gotten to know otherwise," she said.

Like other students, Ella found that she likes acting and added that the long passages of narration she had to memorize helps her with school work.

Ella's older sister, Delaney, a seventh-grader, said she has "memories that will last forever" from playing Dorothy. It also helped her get a part in another school play because she had acting experience.

Schaack said it's "hard to let go" after the many years of doing the play.

So many parents helped with the production at rehearsals and presenting the play. They also sewed and donated many of the costumes.

"I couldn't have pulled this off without parents," she said.

The performing arts are important, she said, because it levels the playing field. While rehearsing or performing, no one knows if a child is gifted or struggles with reading.

She's also included special education students in the plays. It's a good experience for the other students who help special needs kids off and on the stage.

Schaack would have liked to pass the play on to another teacher, but it's been difficult to find rehearsal time in recent years because the students in the school are preparing for Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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