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Lake Ridge students write own opera, 'The Avalanche'

Published August 23, 2012 11:02 am

Opera • Wine company's $1,000 grant helped make Lake Ridge Elementary's production a success.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Opera is hard. Opera produced, written and performed entirely by fourth-graders is really hard.

Fortunately for students of Lake Ridge Elementary's Barbara Knowlden, a $1,000 grant from a somewhat unlikely source made the endeavor a little easier.

When Knowlden — a sixth-year teacher at Lake Ridge and the school's art coordinator — decided to put on the student production, she was determined to pull it off with or without additional funding. So when she rallied more than 1,500 votes to win an online grant from Kris wine, it only expanded the possibilities.

"We started the opera production long before we got the grant, and that was just an added bonus," Knowlden said. "I knew I was going to do the opera no matter what, but I didn't know how elaborate I could do it because I didn't have the funds yet."

The seventh-generation Italian wine company teamed with its grant distribution partner, Americans for the Arts, to award a total of $25,000 to 16 schools nationwide to give them just the kind of cushion Knowlden and her students suddenly had. The excitement with which Knowlden and her students used the grant was exactly what Kris had in mind for the second annual Arts of Education program.

"It was great to see so much enthusiasm from teachers, parents and friends of Lake Ridge and other schools around the country as they voted on Facebook and helped raise awareness about the importance of arts education," Marilyn Krieger said on behalf of Kris. "Congratulations to Lake Ridge. We are thrilled to learn about how they used the grant to support this enriching arts program."

Knowlden's 30 fourth-graders took the direction from their teacher and the funds from Kris to create "The Avalanche" — about a group of wolves trapped in an avalanche cave whom American Indians, mountain lions and miners band together to rescue. The students brought the story to life with elaborate costumes and hand-painted sets, which would not have been possible without the grant.

After eight months of production and rehearsals, "The Avalanche" premiered in May to rave reviews from parents and faculty. Lake Ridge Principal Dorthea Gray, who's in her 30th year in education and who said she had her doubts about how the production would come off, said witnessing her students' success re-emphasized to her the role of educators.

"What we're all about in education is to provide a background so that kids can find what their inner passion is and where they can make themselves happy and make their mark in life," she said.

While the class as a whole exceeded Knowlden's expectations by meeting all standard testing requirements in addition to their work on the opera, she and Gray said the production spurred an excitement and rededication in a number of underperforming students. Knowlden said she saw students who had been academically uninterested star during all phases of the opera.

"I know that a lot of teachers don't go out of their way to do things like this, and I think it's important that teachers do," Knowlden said. "I wish that more teachers would."

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Center stage

Thirty students from Barbara Knowlden's fourth-grade class at Lake Ridge Elementary in Magna received a $1,000 grant from Kris wine to put on an entirely student-produced opera.

Kris wine teamed with Americans for the Arts to award $25,000 to 16 schools nationwide to support arts education programs.

With the help of Knowlden and their parents, students spent eight months writing and rehearsing the opera before its May premiere.