Reader's Theater Opens at Washington Elementary School in Summit

Washington Elementary School students from Cheryl Brennan's fifth-grade class read from scripts during a presentation on the recently opened reader's theater yesterday

SUMMIT, NJ - After seeing numerous reports of school budgets cuts across New Jersey, some readers may be surprised to learn that one education center was able to expand. A gathering in Summit on Wednesday celebrated such a happening—the addition of an outdoor theater.

Lauren Banker, the principal of Washington Elementary School in Summit, conducted a ceremony for the opening of a reader's theater, located just outside of the building where she works. The event took place by the theater. The theater consists of a stage slightly elevated above the ground with ten benches facing it.

Various members of the local community shared the responsibility of creating this new space. Banker, basic skills teacher Natalie Cassidy and librarian Cindy Hedin collaborated on the idea of crafting an outdoor theater for the school, according to Cassidy and Hedin. Banker said that funding for the project came from the Washington Elementary School PTA and the Summit Educational Foundation. According to a press release provided at the event, Halls Garden Center in Berkeley Heights and Home Depot also provided support for building the theater.

Several volunteers constructed the theater, the bulk of the work completed by residents Ed McDonnell and Perry Zipf, according to Banker. "They physically built this for us," Banker said. "We didn't have to hire a contractor." According to Hedin, McDonnell's and Zipf's efforts were paramount to the success of the project. "They deserve a whole lot of credit," Hedin said.

The completed theater was used by students of Washington Elementary School during the ceremony to demonstrate their artistic skills to the people attending the event. With student Christian Greer playing a guitar, a selected choir of children sang for the audience. Afterwards, Joanne Balzano's first-grade students performed a rendition of the well-known story, "Jack and the Beanstalk." Cheryl Brennan's fifth-grade students presented last, performing Judith Voirst's poem, "If I Were in Charge of the World."

The theater will be home to more than this ceremony, according to Banker. She said that the space will be used by students in all grade levels of Washington Elementary School for various academic activities, including performing projects and observing nature. While budget cuts in the state may bring down the curtains for programs in other schools, Washington has different plans for their stage.

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