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West Jordan Journal

‘Newsies’ actors prepared to take on world problems

Jun 06, 2024 09:49AM ● By Jet Burnham

Cast B named actors in Oakcrest Elementary School’s April performance of “Newsies Jr.” (Photo courtesy Janette Robinson)

In Oakcrest Elementary School’s performance of “Newsies Jr,” student actors told the story of the 1899 strike organized by young newspaper carriers to improve the lives of child laborers in New York City. And now these kids are ready to take on their generation’s problems.

Unfair work conditions aren’t a concern for West Jordan youth, but several of the students identified environmental issues, such as pollution and litter, as problems they feel passionate about solving. (Except for fourth-grader Parker Lyon, who said world peace is his priority.)

Some students already have ideas of how to begin to address these worldwide problems.

Fourth-grader Quinn Dryer sometimes picks up trash in her own neighborhood and suggests, “Kids could go to beaches and pick up trash” to protect ocean life. Sixth-grader Jackson Singer, who played the lead role of Jack Kelly, thinks an incentive program would be effective to encourage students to pick up trash around the school and keep the bathrooms clean.

“When they have a reward, it makes them want to do it,” he said.

Oakcrest Elementary Arts Specialist Scott Knight, who directed “Newsies Jr,” said students involved in theatrical productions gain confidence and learn commitment and a good work ethic—skills they can use to execute their world-changing ideas.

“Some of the biggest life skills that they get from being in a musical is confidence in themselves, that they're able to accomplish these great, hard things in the musical, they can know that they can accomplish great things outside of it,” Knight said.

Parents and teachers commented to Knight how impressed they were by the students' performances, particularly those who struggle to focus or participate during the school day.

Knight said the arts provide students different outlets for their abilities.

“I love how in the arts everyone can shine,” he said. “It really brings out their different strengths, where, in many cases, they don't show those in other situations. There's nothing better than to help these kids to discover their talents, and then to help them to develop them.” 

Fourth-grader Mason Funk, who played the role of Crutchie, sang a solo and had to dance all the choreography while using a crutch. His mother, Roshannah Funk, said being involved in the school play helped Mason and his sister Sydney, a sixth-grader, experience personal growth.

“I think that they were able to realize that they can do hard things,” she said.

The cast of 55 third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade students committed to months of daily rehearsals and practicing at home to prepare for four performances in April.

“In order to be able to pull something like this together, they've got to be willing to work hard,” Knight said. “It's several months of time commitment, and that these kids stick with it is wonderful.”

“Newsies Jr” was Knight’s twelfth school theatrical production. Maddie Lyon, who will be a sixth grader next year, played the role of Medda Larkin in this year’s play, and also had roles in Knight’s past productions of “Wizard of Oz” and “Annie Jr.” She is looking forward to next year’s show, “Lion King Jr.” λ