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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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Writer, Emmah and Production Manager, Angel work on the script.

Becoming an Expert On The Job

Every Wednesday morning the halls are abuzz with incredible energy for Opera Class. Students walk from place to place with purpose. They know they have a job and they must be prepared. From 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. we meet as a company to work in our respective job groups. Our talented and dedicated volunteers work with us as we specialize in learning the specific skills necessary to carry out the responsibilities in creating an original opera. Each company member becomes an expert in his or her field. The groups work independently. Then, little by little, as we move through the process, students recognize the significance and purpose of each job group and learn that without all groups combining effort and commitment, the opera could not happen. A sense of interdependence is born. There’s no turning back. It’s all for one and one for all.

Weather interruptions have kept us from meeting on three consecutive Wednesdays. This would present a definite setback for most people working toward a common goal with a timeline and strict deadlines to meet. But for Lightning Strike Kids Opera Company, the challenge has inspired great tenacity and perseverance. Students offer to give up recess, take on homework assignments to advance the project and come in early to work. Parents and colleagues report that company members are worried about missing school and verbalize their concerns with comments such as, “We cannot miss school tomorrow. There is too much work to be done. We only have ten more Wednesday work sessions until the opera premiere. We have to be at school. We have lost so much time already.” Commitment. Perseverance. Collaboration. Initiative. These are essential life skills that even adults have difficulty learning. These skills do not come from a textbook nor are they represented on a standardized test. But they are perhaps, the most important skills we can foster if we want our students to be successful in life.

Performers improvise to create scenario.

Composers write theme song chorus.

Imari makes phone calls for a parent meeting. This is his first.

Linda and Sofia learn to use a handsaw as they construct a stage flat.

Linda and Sofia learn to use a handsaw as they construct a stage flat.

Writer, Emmah and Production Manager, Angel work on the script.

Writer, Emmah and Production Manager, Angel work on the script.

Composers Katie, Dominic and Daylon offer ideas for the theme song.

Composers Katie, Dominic and Daylon offer ideas for the theme song.

Jianna applies stage make-up to Jasmine, our volunteer.

Jianna applies stage make-up to Jasmine, our volunteer.

Electricians Devon, Elijah and Raneem wire the footlights.

Electricians Devon, Elijah and Raneem wire the footlights.

Electricians return supplies.

Electricians return supplies.

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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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