Just moments after children entered Crissie Sturgis's classroom at East Aiken School of the Arts, they discovered that acting out can be a very good thing. Soon they were laughing and leaping into the air – what better way for East Aiken's first theater teacher to engage her students?
“This is so much fun,” Sturgis said. “It's only the second week, but the kids are already so excited.”
More than a decade ago, physical education teacher Kathy Linton and art teacher Carrie Power introduced the then-new concept of schoolwide arts integration to Aiken County. The School of the Arts designation was approved by the Aiken County Board of Education in 2009.
Music teacher Megan Jensen joined them, and now Sturgis is providing yet another arts program for kindergarten through fifth grades. Adding Sturgis to the faculty supports all the aspects of the school curriculum, Power said.
“Many of the speaking, listening and reading skills found in our (English/language arts) standards have theater skills naturally embedded into them,” she said.
As a teenager, Sturgis found just the right college in Winthrop, which offers a double major in theater and in education with K-12 certification.
After her graduation, Sturgis spent four years at Battery Creek High School in Beaufort.
“I made a lot of close relationships there and still keep in touch with many of them,” she said. “I also got certified in the (International Baccalaureate program). It's very rigorous and required me to learn about multicultural theater ... focusing on cultures around the world, such as Vietnamese puppets.
Sturgis then accepted the same position at Summerville High School, among the state's largest schools and with many resources. A performance of “Les Miserables” included 60 students working in the program. She now is delighted to make the transition to kindergarten through fifth grade at East Aiken.
“We are truly thrilled to have her on our team,” Jensen said by email. “Her experience and fresh energy will help take our arts programs and arts integration efforts to a whole new level.”
East Aiken unsuccessfully had sought theater and dance positions through the Aiken County Board of Education in 2013. This year, Board members agreed at the last moment before they approved the 2014 to 2015 budget in June. Power is grateful that the School Board “was able to help us with goals written in our strategic arts plan.”
One of Sturgis' plans is to teach the children how to relate theater to traditional academic instruction. She is looking forward to helping older students that may be more self-conscious at their age. The kids in grades kindergarten through second won't have that issue, she said.
“They're free to go,” Sturgis said with a smile. “They don't hold back.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT East Aiken School of the Arts students, from left, Tyson Walker, Davion Hart and Megan Gray delight in their first day in the classroom of new theater teacher Crissie Sturgis.×