Washington Elementary School today held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the grand opening of the school's outdoor reader's theater. The theater is the first of its kind in the district.

Occupying approximately 2,500 square feet of the school grounds, the theater features a quarter-circle shaped stage with a 20-foot radius. There are ten benches, each of which can seat five people. A unique feature of the benches is that they can be converted into writing desks by folding the backrest down. Flower gardens, evergreen shrubs, and a fence behind the stage enclose the area.

The theater will serve as a multi-disciplinary facility. In addition to performing traditional reader's theater programs, students will use the space for outdoor science exploration and observation, writing workshops, nature studies, and student gardening projects. Special recognition ceremonies and school events will also be held at the theater.

"When the space became available with the removal of the preschool playground, faculty members Cindy Hedin and Natalie Cassidy envisioned it to be used as part of our student gardening programs," explains Lauren Banker, Principal, Washington School. "I had recently completed reader workshop training at Teacher's College and given the amount of space, I thought we could combine the two ideas and have a spectacular outdoor facility to complement our many programs"

The theater is the product of a joint effort of parent, teacher and community volunteers. "What makes this theater so special is that it is a shining example of the Washington School community, as well as the larger community, coming together to make this truly special space a reality," says Ms. Banker.

A truly collaborative effort, the construction of the theater was completed by two Washington School volunteer fathers, Ed McDonnell and Perry Zipf. Additional parent volunteers assisted in certain phases of the construction. Faculty members Cindy Hedin, librarian, and Natalie Cassidy, basic skills teacher, designed the gardens that surround the theater, and student and faculty members contributed to planting the gardens.

The material and construction costs of the main theater and majority of the landscaping costs were funded in full by the Washington School PTA. The Summit Educational Fund provided a grant to the school for the flowers. Local businesses were involved as well. Home Depot offered reduced costs on building supplies, and Halls Garden Center in Berkeley Heights assisted with landscape design and construction.

Washington School is one of five elementary schools in the Summit School District.