Pandora’s Box, lost turtles and talking dogs were featured among the 14 short puppet shows written by students at Kenilworth Elementary School and performed at the Imagine This! puppet event at the Great Arizona Puppet Theater.
During the first week of school, staff from the theater come to the elementary school and speak with every class in the second to eighth grades about the opportunities in the program. Students then start writing and illustrating their original stories. Around the middle of October submissions are due and the theater picks two winners from each grade to be acted out at the annual show.
Kenilworth and the Great Arizona Puppet Theater have partnered since 2008 to produce the Imagine This! program each year. Kenilworth Principal Anthony Pietrangeli inherited the program when he came to the school in 2014.
“It was one of the first things they talked to me about when I came into the school,” Pietrangeli said. “It was one of the more positive things about the culture of the school that I inherited. It was a tradition. It was part of what they do. We’re in the business of helping kids and celebrating kids, and this fit right in.”
The program benefits students academically by integrating with the school’s curriculum to bring creativity into the classroom while guiding students through the writing process, Kenilworth third grade teacher Kaylie Virden said.
“I think (it helps) just the writing process in general and seeing their stories published in a different way than, say, a class making classroom books,” Virden said. “I think being able to see how writing can play into a performance is really beneficial.”
The program goes beyond that to help students in technology as well. Fifth to eighth grade students animated the stories as a part of the computer elective at the school.
“The students spent time to actually digitally create the characters they submitted,” Pietrangeli said. “To see the connection from the technology aspect to the digital design that this created, we probably would of not stumbled upon that so early in the year.”
The program is also incorporated with the after school program called PEER, which stands for Phoenix Elementary Enrichment Resources. About 20 students from PEER helped make the majority of the puppets for the show.
“The puppet theater came in about once or twice a week to have them help out,” PEER Lead Supervisor Emmanuel Blanco said. “So it took them about five to seven days. They worked really hard.”
The school is also happy about the opportunity to partner with the community each year.
“They’re our neighbors,” Pietrangeli said. “Any school asks a lot of the neighborhood the school lives in. We have over 500 students causing a lot of gridlock in the mornings and the afternoon. So a school in its neighborhood has to do its part to be a part of the neighborhood. It was a win-win situation to partner up with the Great Arizona Puppet Theater.”
Each year the students’ excitement for the event grows as the event becomes even more ingrained in the school’s traditions.
“The buzz on campus about it is big,” Pietrangeli said. “They’re excited. They look forward to it for next year also. Already they’re going to be talking about it.”
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