Students from Nikiski North Star Elementary School perform the musical "We Haz Jazz" under a black light Thursday afternoon in the school cafeteria.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Since the consolidation of Nikiski Elementary and North Star Elementary schools this year, teachers and students have come a long way to make the school one population instead of two who just happen to share a building.
To that end, three North Star sixth-grade teachers put together a jazz musical, called "We Haz Jazz," to top off the first year of becoming Nikiski North Star Elementary.
"We're all pretty jazzed about this. I know it's a terrible pun, but we really are very excited," said sixth-grade teacher Christine Barnes. "(Principal) Lori Manion asked us to come up with something where we could all work together, and we thought a musical would be a great tool to get us together on the same page."
Sixth-grade teacher Sherry Matson said doing the musical has topped off a year that started out with some uncertainty.
"Initially the kids talked about the other kids from the different school, but now they're a sixth-grade. It's been a personally exciting opportunity for me," Matson said. "There is no division among the three sixth-grade classes and definitely not between schools. They are professional collaborators who share ideas, critique and congratulate each other. They feel part of a group."
Matson said the kids enjoy the thrill of doing a quality performance, and it is something worth watching.
"This has been an investment by the kids. They show dedication and focus in practice. This has been fun to see so many kids discovering that they could do something they might not have known they could do," she said.
More than 60 sixth-graders have come together to put the musical on and get to know one another better. There are seven singing numbers involving all the kids and dialog in between the songs to tell the history of jazz.
"We chose this musical because we thought the kids would learn something about jazz they didn't know before," Barnes said.
The musical features three cameos of famous jazz artists played by sixth-graders. Jesse Hyatt plays the part of legendary and revolutionary pianist Thelonious Monk.
"I get to play the part of the greatest jazz pianist that everyone is waiting on at the end of the show," Hyatt said. "He wasn't so well known in the beginning but came back and blew everyone away. He became so well known."
Hyatt said he was a good choice to play the part of Monk because he has a loud speaking voice and good facial expressions. He said his part makes everyone drop to the floor.
Also making appearances will be Caty Reid as Billie Holiday singing "Summertime," and Tanner Thompson as Louis Armstrong singing "Cabaret."
Hyatt said the consolidation started out somewhat rough around the edges, but as the year progressed, so did the camaraderie of the two schools' students.
"It's been an awesome year of school. Everyone has gotten to know everyone else, and it's been a fun year. When we go high school, things will work a lot smoother," Hyatt said.
Matson said the audience will get an overview of jazz, but more importantly, people will see the kids involved in doing a project where they learned about new music.
Barnes said the musical and consolidation have come together quite well.
Some of that is due in part to Manion's implementation of a 30-minute time at the end of the school day where teachers got together and figured out ways the students could collaborate and maximize the students' potential. She said she believes it has paid off.
"This started off with me talking to these kids as fifth-graders a year ago and helping them understand that they would be the leaders of something new. The students have really come together and focused on the community," Manion said.
"The musical is just an example of the cohesiveness that we've seen throughout the whole year."
"We Haz Jazz" will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at Nikiski High School. Admission is free, and it open to the public.
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