Harper kids run away to the circus
Anatoly Koshelev (left), a director with Runaway Circus, leads Harper School first graders through a warm-up during class at the school. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
THREE RINGED FUN
WHERE: Harper Elementary School
WHO: The Runaway Circus
FOR: Artist-in-Residence program
Updated: March 22, 2013 6:22AM
WILMETTE — Remember when your mother told you to get off the fence you were balancing on, or to — good heavens — stop trying to juggle the dinnerware? How about the day your teacher sternly told you to stop making funny faces in class?
Remember wishing that you could run away to the circus?
Students at Wilmette’s Harper Elementary School got the chance this year to do just that, without having to leave home. Instead, the Runaway Circus came to them, courtesy of Harper’s annual artist in residence program.
The residency program is a long running project of the school’s PTO. PTO liaison Senta Plunkett said Feb. 11 that it focuses on enriching student’s artistic knowledge in several fields.
“We try to fill in certain areas that kids may not have experienced yet,” she said. For instance, last year, members of Evanston’s Piven Theater worked with students; the previous year a mosaic artist did so, she said.
The Chicago-based Runaway Circus has worked with Harper students once a week for a month, aligning their lessons to what works best for each age level.
Older students got to work on their plate spinning skills and other advanced circus fun but for the kids in first grade teacher Patty Ballard’s class, work meant tightrope walking, hula hoops, team-based work on the rolla-bolla (a see-saw board balanced precariously on a small rolling “log”) and clowning skits atop small block stilts.
At their first circus class, students were introduced to different circus skills and picked their favorite. They practiced throughout the next three classes.
“They’ve been so excited about this,” Ballard said.
During last week’s circus class, the last before a finale when students could dress up and entertain their schoolmates, youngsters separated into groups. They were allowed to put on some Circus-supplied costume props, the use of which immediately heightened both their enjoyment and their performances.
Two girls concentrated fiercely on putting one foot in front of the other while walking across the tight-wire placed about two feet off the ground. An instructor helped them balance and encouraged them. Across the room, three boys learned their clown skit routine, clopping across the floor on their wood block stilts and girning like mad.
Anatoly Koshelev and his wife Sara operate the circus. Their team of instructors made sure to focus the excited youngsters’ attention on the skill they were learning. “The main thing we work on is self confidence and self esteem,” Koshelev said, after the class ended. “But we really want them to learn the skills.
“The look on their faces when they do master something is worth everything. These kids come in thinking it’ impossible, and they learn that nothing is impossible if you’re willing to work at it.“