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As a teacher with 29 years of experience, Mary Ruth McGinn has always sought innovative ways to meet the needs of each of her students. She has spent her entire career in schools where a majority of students speak English as a second language and where poverty significantly impacts the... Read more

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A Lesson from Joseph

The day of the opera, a fifth grade colleague asked his students, my former opera students, to reflect on the opera experience. After writing their reflections, they came to our classroom to read aloud what they were thinking and feeling. Lightning Strike Kids Opera Company listened attentively as members of Water Droplets Kids Opera Company shared their memories, thoughts and feelings. And then Joseph began to speak. He, like the others, started to read what he had written. But then, he looked up from his paper, made eye contact with me across the circle and said, “Thank you for helping me. You helped me when I got upset, to control my temper. Now I am more mature and I control my anger.” His lip began to quiver as he read. He became emotional. Through his tears I could see clearly our purpose for this process of creating an original opera.

If we do not learn to manage our emotions as young people, we cannot be successful in work or in life. In my twenty-seven years of teaching in the elementary classroom, I have had at least two students every year who suffer with severe anger issues. These kids are not available for learning if we do not help them work through their issues and overcome the obstacles that obstruct their paths on a daily basis. Though kids often have little control over the situations surrounding them, they must learn how to manage themselves and how to act and react to the circumstances in their environment. Having a safe place to express difficult and confusing feelings is paramount. Teaching children strategies to utilize in times of crisis and emotional turmoil is also key.

Through the opera process, students encounter daily opportunities to learn and apply techniques in managing emotions in an authentic context. In this way, as children gain confidence in themselves and trust their classmates, they feel safe expressing anger, frustration and sadness and they learn how to process what is happening inside of them. Joseph is now ready for middle school. Our hope is that he will serve as an example to others who struggle in this way. Thank you, Joseph.

Joseph

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Mary Ruth McGinn

About Mary Ruth McGinn

As a teacher with 29 years of experience, Mary Ruth McGinn has always sought innovative ways to meet the needs of each of her students. She has spent her entire career in schools where a majority of students speak English as a second language and where poverty significantly impacts the learning experiences and opportunities of students and their families.

Sixteen years ago she had an experience that changed her life and altered her professional path in a profound way. She attended training sessions at The Metropolitan Opera Guild in New York City, spent nine intense days living the process of creating an original opera and learned how to replicate the experience with her students. She then began creating opera with her students and using the process of creating the opera as a vehicle through which to teach curriculum and life skills. The authentic purpose for learning coupled with the arts provided the perfect stage on which to construct a love for life-long learning.

She currently teaches at Stedwick Elementary School in Montgomery Village, Maryland where she is creating another original opera with her third grade students.

Read more of Mary Ruth’s blog Learning for Real.

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