Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Broadway Books First Class Visit From Lauren Ridloff and Joshua Jackson

Stars from the Broadway Revival of CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD celebrate language, literacy and learning with students in Pre-K and Second Grade 

I never imagined when I started Broadway Books First Class three years ago that I would be welcoming my former team teacher and friend, Lauren Ridloff, as a guest artist. And I certainly could never have imagined she would be accompanied by the handsome, affable star of The Mighty DucksDawson's Creek, and The Affair, Joshua Jackson! Yet, here we are.

2018 Broadway Revival
Lauren made a huge splash on Broadway this season in Children of a Lesser God. She earned Outer Critics Circle, Drama League and TONY AWARD! nominations for her performance as Sarah Norman Leeds and became the darling of publications like The New York Times. Everyone was enthralled with this woman who, as Variety put it, "comes out of nowhere to knock us off our feet".

But, she did have a life before all the attention and accolades. Once upon a time Lauren used to dwell in that proverbial land of "nowhere" with me. Together we taught kindergarten and first grade at PS347 in Room 201 for 9 years and, as I have written in many blog posts, she has always been fabulous.

So, you see, she was really never "nowhere" after all. She was contributing to the development of young minds as an outstanding educator, a fierce defender of young children and a perfect partner - first as a teacher and then as a wife and mother. However, this new chapter allows her to leave a lasting impact and serve as a positive role model on a vastly broader scale.

Of course, Joshua Jackson has been a role model since he stepped on the scene in 1992 with The Mighty Ducks. His character, Charlie Conway, is the kid every parent wants to call their own. He is ethical, empathetic and kind. I know this because we watched the movie in preparation for his visit and I've laughed my way through a lot of quacking ever since. When Josh stepped into my classroom it was to a chanting chorus of, "QUACK! QUACK! QUACK!"

We also watched a scene from Dawson's Creek involving a tearful goodbye on the beach between Joshua's character, Pacey Witter, and his teacher. It may or may not have been an appropriate relationship and the mention of it in front of our young audience made Josh laugh disbelievingly and blush a little (rest assured, the 2-minute scene out of context is quite innocuous).

Photo Credit: Eileen Lograno
Joshua Jackson fingerspells his name for the Pre-K and Second Grade students

It was a bit surreal to welcome Lauren back into the classroom after 6 years, but it ultimately felt like a true homecoming. As with all guest artists, I spent the week prior to her visit preparing the children by discussing her work. Only once, when I welcomed former student Eden Duncan-Smith, have I ever known so much about a performer or felt as though I were welcoming family.

My words were filled with love, pride, and tremendous joy as I explained her journey to the Great White Way. Lauren's trajectory from ASL tutor to the lead in a Broadway show is the stuff of fairy tales. It is almost unheard of and yet, proves to even the most skeptical that anything is possible.

I seized upon this theme by selecting the children's book Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds for Lauren and Josh to read. It is a beautiful story encouraging children to embrace their creativity, nurture their dreams, and celebrate all the ways they are unique. The illustrations are colorful, imaginative and sometimes, even shiny! The timbre of the book speaks to my aesthetic of encouraging creative chaos and cherishing the dreamers.

Lauren Ridloff and Joshua Jackson reading HAPPY DREAMER by Peter H. Reynolds.
(What Kind of Dreamer Are You?)

The reading was conducted in both American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English with the teacher in Lauren on full display as she engaged the children in a dialogue and guided Josh to highlight various elements in the illustrations. The majority of the students in attendance have parents who are deaf, while some are deaf or hard of hearing themselves. Inviting guest artists who can communicate using the children's first language is an important consideration for me and a valuable experience for the students. Congratulations are in order for Josh, whose ASL development continues to grow since I first met him in the Berkshires last summer.

Near the end of the book the author asks, "What kind of dreamer are you?" and offers up a bunch of options. Students and teachers alike raised their hands in response to each choice. This informal poll showed conclusively that the adults in the room were mostly "Nap Happy" dreamers, while the children favored more active manifestations.

Photo Credit: Eileen Lograno
A student asks, "How did you become an actor and why?"

The reading was followed by a question and answer session. We learned that Josh started acting when he was 10-years-old because his mother was in the business. He liked playing so much that he stuck with it (and rather successfully too!).

Lauren shared some challenges associated with the role of Sarah. One was that it required her to use her voice, which she decided not to use when she was 13-years-old. There were both physical and emotional considerations surrounding this stipulation, but in time she found power in reclaiming her voice on the stage.

Josh also shared his challenge with learning a new language, ASL. Their supportive relationship showed the children that difficulties can be overcome with a little help from your friends - an important message for the young ones to embrace.

My favorite picture - Lauren and Josh signing books for the students

The visit concluded with Josh and Lauren hunkering down into preschool-sized chairs and autographing 30 books and chatting briefly with each student. It was also the time that many teachers swept into the room to say hello to their former coworker, Lauren, and catch a glimpse of Joshua Jackson.

Photo Credit: Eileen Lograno
"You get a book! And you get a book!"
It is a very special thing that amidst all the hubbub, the demands for their time, an exhausting schedule, and just a little more than a week before the Tony Awards, Lauren and Josh made visiting a class of young children a priority. That, to me, speaks of character worthy of Charlie Conway and tells the children in no uncertain terms that they are dreamers worthy of attention. It's a beautiful message. Thank you both for making me a Happy Dreamer!

You can watch some highlights from Josh and Lauren's visit in this short clip created by Jamie Kirkpatrick (with additional footage from Eileen Lograno).

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


Ready for some fun in the sun!

As they look ahead to kindergarten, the cool cats of preschool offer some wisdom to their successors.
"You might be sad to say goodbye to Mommy and Daddy but they will pick you up later.  You will like choice time.  You can play blocks and light table.  And gym!" 
"Don't eat too much candy or you will get a stomachache.  And you have to be the boss of your body. Don't burst your friends bubble and touch them too much."
Music with Esther Kim of Tokyo and the Boy
"You have to learn balance.  You can learn to write your name.  I like music.  You should learn music and learn how to dance.  And you can try new foods at lunch.  I like fruits and strawberries.  Apples are good for you.  And go to sleep.  When you wake up it will be time to go home."
"Something I like was the books and reading the news.  If you get a class job you can sign the names of the kids and learn their names in ASL.  You can play at the light table and run at gym.  Be a gentle friend and don't be rough.  And no hitting."
Learning Concept of Word through Shared Reading
"You should play with blocks.  They are fun.  House is fun.  You should draw every day.  And tell the teachers if you need to use the bathroom.  Don't break toys if you want to play with them again."
"Please don't touch the dragon we made. And be careful with other people's artwork because they worked hard on it.  You will like to draw self-portraits and make cards for your Daddy and draw your house or draw yourself instead."
Creating at the Writing Center
 "You should share and play nicely with others."
"In a fire drill there is no time for talking.  We just go fast outside.  It's just practice if you have a fire. And fire can start if you want to make fire with chopsticks and flint.  But you shouldn't."
"Drink water!"
"Play with your friends and HAVE FUN!" 
Playing at The New Victory Theater

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"When I Grow Up..."

We bid a bittersweet farewell to the 2017-2018 school year last Thursday with a graduation ceremony for the adorable wee ones. These Pre-K graduations are no joke! I am in awe of how my coworkers coordinated all of the different elements from certificates, ASL videos, pictures, artwork, awards, food, programs, and performance.

I was particularly fond of the artwork the children created - using canvas and acrylic paint - to show what they are going to be when they grow up. The finished product was covered with Mod Podge, an all in one decoupage glue, sealer and finish, to keep them lovely and framable.  I envision these hanging in their offices or homes one day as they think back to a simpler time and realize how much they were loved and nurtured in their childhoods.

The Doctor

"I'm going to be a doctor.  A children doctor! I will need a magnifying glasses. And a Stethoscope.  And a uniform!  A white coat. I will have my own office. And the kids have to let you do what the doctors need to do.  They look where they got hurt and what is wrong with them and if they got sick.  And my doctor put a Q-Tip in my throat!"

The Ballerina

"I want to be a dancer!  I like to do ballet and other dances.  I will do my dances on a stage and all the people will come watch me and the girls dance on the stage.  I want to be like a black swan!  And wear a black dress!"

The Police Officer

"I want to be the policeman.  They catch monies and bad guys steal it and run away too far.  The bad guys are always hiding.  Then we caught them.  We take a police helicopter and the police car help them.  The kids in the school bus.  We have to rescue the superheroes.  We stopped the road.  Then we blocked the road.  And we saved Superman, Batman, the Hulk, and Wonder Woman.  And we saved the day!  A policeman Hulk would be big and strong and green.  Police men need flashlight and a badge."

The Firefighter

"When I grow up, I want to be a fireman.  They spray water at the fire.  And I am going to drive the fire engine.  I need a ladder so that they could get up high."

The Construction Worker

"I want to be a builder.  I want to build a house. They will be brown and white.  I already have my own, but I will build one for some other people.  I like to play in the living room, so I will build a big living room for the kids.  But not too big.  I will need to hammer. But if I do too hard, the wall will break.  And I will build a kitchen. I can build a table too.  And stairs.  I like my real floor.  And I have a room and my sister has a room.  And a window.  I don't want to break the windows.  And I need a wrench, a saw, and an axe.  I don't want nothing to get inside the house!"

The Mommy

"I am going to be a mommy when I grow up.  I am going to have a baby boy and a baby girl.  Just 2, that's it!  They have to drink some milk.  And they eat baby food, like cereal.  I have to change the poopy diaper.  And then we'll play in the park.  And I will push the baby in the swing!  Then they sleep, then they wake up and play with their toys.  I have to bring the babies to the doctor if they feel sick.  And I will give them a present and Hello Kitty!  And I will work with computers."

The Helicopter Pilot

"When I grow up, I want to be a helicopter pilot.  They watch people and have to save people because they are in a boat sinking.  I will need to hook and a rope or a strap.  You have to pull them up with the rope.  And those floating things - life preservers for a rescue helicopter.  I don't know they know it's an emergency, but they do! Maybe it comes out on a printer.  Or a walkie talkie.  Maybe they keep their walkie talkies on their suit because they have no shelves in a helicopter.  They have seats in front.  And a lot of controls and turning wheels.  And you need a helmet."

The Police Officer

"I am going to be a policeman.  I will have to put people in jail.  If someone hurts another guy, and I will tell them, "FREEZE, YOU'RE UNDER ARREST!"  And click, click, I put on handcuffs.  And I will drive the police car with blue and red lighting and sirens.  I can even hear the siren from the 36th Floor in my building!  I heard it when I was 2 years old."

The 3-Year-Old Metaphysicist 

"I want to be Maggie" 


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