News from the Field: Sterling-Rock Falls 21st CCLC Theater Program

Written with assistance from Tony Castillo

The 21st Century Drama Club is operated by the Sterling-Rock Falls Family YMCA in partnership with Rock Falls School District 13. Led by Faith Morrison, the drama club serves Rock Falls Middle School students grades 6-8.

The program is divided into two sessions: fall and spring. In the fall, students learn the basics of drama, like projecting their voices and playing different characters, which help students develop both skills and confidence. Singing and dancing complement the acting lessons, and the semester ends with a performance of a series of skits and songs for our community. During the spring session, students audition for, practice, and ultimately perform a play for the community. Once the roles are set, students focus on their characters, remembering their lines, blocking, and, as Ms. Morrison reminds them, “projecting your voice so Grandma in the back is able to hear you.”

Last spring, students performed The Wizard of Oz for the entire student body as well as more than 200 family and community members. We do not charge admission for the play but ask that attendees bring a can of food to donate to a local food pantry. We also took the show on the road, with students traveling to Normal to perform at the Illinois Quality Afterschool 2016 Spring Conference. 

Although many students attend the 21st CCLC for drama club, the afterschool program also helps us boost academic skills. Any student who has a C- or lower in a core subject attends a 1-hour daily session for homework help or academic enrichment before participating in drama club. The effort paid off when students’ grades improved and nobody in the program had a grade lower than a C by the end of the last school year.

Our drama club activities have also supported literacy skills. Many of the students who participate in drama club are in special education and literacy assistance programs at school, and the drama club provided opportunities to master reading and fluency that fit with their learning styles. After we performed The Wizard of Oz, Rock Falls Middle School principal Kyle Ackman personally contacted us to say how amazed he was with the students who could not only remember their lines, but also speak so fluently in front of a crowd.

Our theater program has become a hit with students, school staff, and community members. Since the program began in 2011, the number of participants has grown from 7 to 28 students, all of whom attend regularly. As one of our student actors said, the theater program “created an opportunity for me to express myself.” Several others have echoed this idea and note that the program has helped them overcome shyness and develop confidence speaking in front of crowds. We have also seen the students develop a sense of community as they worked together. Because the school district does not have a performing arts program, this is one of the few opportunities that students have to participate in theater. We are proud to offer a program that engages students, boosts academic achievement, and strengthens our ties with the school and the community.