Rotary invests in Gamm, so theater invests in students

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A $20,000 Rotary Club of Warwick grant could make for some stars, although that isn’t the intended purpose of expanding a program run by the Gamm Theatre at Norwood School to three other elementary schools as well as introducing new programs to middle and senior high school students.

Once a week for the past nine weeks, Gamm education director Susie Schutt and assistant director Kate Hanson have been working with second-graders to bring to the stage a book they’ve been reading. The play – actually two plays about six minutes long each – goes live on Dec. 20 when the students perform before their parents and the first-graders.

Indeed, there will be student stars, and who is to say where the experience will take them later in life?

But says Norwood Principal Sabrina Antonelli the program has already had an impact.

“I’m very excited about this. They bring a book alive,” she said. She said the experience helps build appreciation for literacy and helps students develop listening and speaking skills. There are social and emotional pieces, too, as the children have to learn to work together.

Building confidence is also a piece, since children are being asked to not only memorize their but also stand up in front of their peers and elders, she pointed out.

Janis Constantine, chair of the Warwick Rotary charity committee, is excited about the grant as it is an investment in community arts, Warwick schools and, most important, Warwick students. Also, as the program will carry the name of the club, she notes it will help the club’s visibility and spread the word of its work.

The Warwick service club that was chartered in 1949 conducts a number of fundraisers throughout the year including a car raffle, Thanksgiving Day turkey trot, gourmet gala and May breakfast to support a variety of community non-profits. Through its charitable foundation it donates about $40,000 a year to the community.

According to the Gamm grant proposal, the program at Norwood would be expanded by another two to four classrooms from the first of the year to the end of the school year. In addition “classroom residences” would be initiated at Hoxsie, Lippitt, Greenwood and Park schools.

According to Amy Gravell, Gamm managing director, an estimated 1,500 students would be impacted.

At the middle school level, the Gamm would establish a residency with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Warwick at the Cooper Building on Sandy Lane, where it would establish an after-school theater program. The Gamm worked with the club last year with improv classes and creation of a play performed for family and friends. About 75 middle school students would be impacted.

At the high school level, the Gamm would open three of its January matinee productions to high school students.

“Due to the new field trip policy imposed by the state, offering this Rotary funded program will allow the classrooms to participate free of charge, subsidizing both ticket and busing costs,” reads the grant proposal. The student matinee program would include a pre-performance classroom visits by a Gamm teaching artist, post-show talk-backs with professional actors and comprehensive study guides for each play. An estimated 300 high school students would be impacted.

Schutt said the theater is still in the process of assessing whether it will need to retain additional personnel to accomplish the program. The grant would be for the current academic year.

The Warwick Rotary Club grant and the plan to expand the program was news to the superintendent’s office.

Schutt and Gravell said now that the grant has been made, they plan to be in touch with the school administration.

The educational program, however, is no stranger to Warwick schools. Schutt said that she attended meetings with Warwick school principals and it was as a result of those meetings that the Norwood program was initiated.

Gravell said the theater is “incredibly grateful” to Warwick Rotary for what she called a “generous opportunity” to work with students.

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