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Season of Giving: Grants help schools put on 'Yes, Virginia'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Editor's note: This is the third story in a series profiling people and organizations helping those in need during the holidays and year-round.

The 10-year-old boy, clad in a brown T-shirt and glasses, stood to deliver one of the most famous lines of any Christmas tale.

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," said Orchard Elementary fifth-grader Matthew Smith in a faux British accent. "He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist."

The accent was Smith's own touch.

"I just kind of started doing it, and no one's told me not to," Smith said during a recent classroom rehearsal.

North Salt Lake's Orchard Elementary is one of six schools in Utah, and 100 across the nation, that have received grants of $1,000 each from Macy's to put on productions of "Yes, Virginia the Musical." The play is inspired by the true story of 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon, who wrote a letter to the New York Sun newspaper in 1897 asking if there really was a Santa Claus. Her earnest question inspired the Sun's editor, Francis P. Church, to write an essay on the importance of believing — a work that included the famous lines Smith recited during rehearsal last week.

Other participating Utah schools are Edgemont Elementary in Provo; Lake­view Elementary in Roy; Bloomington Hills Elementary in St. George; Park Elementary in Spanish Fork; and the Anna Smith School in Wendover. "Yes, Virginia The Musical" is part of Macy's "Believe" campaign that supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

In addition to the cash, all of the schools received access to scripts and scores as well as other materials. Orchard plans to use its $1,000 to pay for costumes for the 50 fifth- and second-graders staging the play.

"It's going to be great for the kids not only to enhance their reading," said fifth-grade teacher Ryann Parker, "but to be able to do this for their school and show their talent."

A number of the fifth-graders have lines, whereas most of the second-graders have taken on supporting roles.

Second-grader Nikohle Schuster, for example, plays Mrs. Whiskers — a cat. Her lines consist of "meow." But she's thrilled for the opportunity.

"I think it's going to be really fun," Nikohle, 8, said of the group's coming performances before the rest of the school Dec. 13. "This is my first time on stage."

Second-grader Luke Akerlow, 7, has one of the lead parts, as Virginia's best friend, Ollie. He's memorized his lines by practicing three times a day. He even sings a solo in a small quiet voice.

"It's a little bit scary," Luke said of the solo, "and fun at the same time."

The students have been learning their parts since mid-October.

"They've really risen to the occasion," said second-grade teacher Lori Jackson. Jackson said she even caught her second-graders singing a song from the play when she picked them up from recess the other day.

Fifth-grader Olivia Hawkins, who plays Miriam the librarian, said when she was home sick from school on a recent day, she spent the time practicing her part. She said she has enjoyed getting into the character.

And she appreciates the message of the play.

"You don't always have to see," Olivia said, "to believe."

lschencker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lschencker —

North Salt Lake school is among six in Utah that received $1,000 to produce the play based on girl's famous letter.
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