SIERRA VISTA — Sierra Vista Unified School District recently launched its Creative Arts Learning Lab as an initiative to integrate more instruction in the arts for elementary school students.

“We hope to create opportunities in the arts for our elementary kiddos,” said Carrie Duerk, Buena High School Theater Teacher. “It’s called the Creative Arts Learning Lab rather than one of our theater monikers because we’re really hoping to expand it to be other opportunities like elementary choir or a ceramics lab or all these things with that art brain-body connection. So, our kids can learn in these other ways beyond what they’re doing in their typical six-hour classroom day.”

Currently, the lab includes a theater program, in which elementary students will be learning the basics of acting and theater production in 10 rehearsals to deliver a performance of “Alice in Wonderland” on April 16 at the Rothery Educational Center.

“We’re partnering with an organization called Rebellious Stage and their author, Theresa Howe,” said Duerk. “She’s created a program that in 10 rehearsals we can put this show together. There are 20 roles, actual roles, they aren’t ‘stand in the back’ roles, actual parts in this (and) we have 20 kids to fill those roles.”

SVUSD Public Information Officer Valerie Weller said the district had 50 students sign up for the theater portion of the program, but only 20 can participate to abide by safety guidelines relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants in the program are required to wear masks and follow the district’s guidelines for social distancing.

Weller said the lab will run as an after-school program and the district hopes to expand instruction across more art mediums.

Duerk said that she was surprised at the amount of interest in the program.

“We had enough kids to do two of these programs, and that was something we were unprepared for,” said Duerk. “But now that we know that there’s a genuine interest in being a part of the program, we are looking to put them on as often as we (can).

“Initially, we thought we’d do one per quarter and make sure that kids had an opportunity twice a semester to be a part of something like this.”

Weller, said the program is also led by Sabrina French, Pueblo Del Sol Elementary School kindergarten teacher, and Dr. Duane Chun, school community director.

In addition to the instructors on staff, Durek has five of her performing arts students from Buena High School assisting her.

“I think that showing theater to kids is like, a really good thing for them and I feel like a lot of schools don’t have theater programs and this might encourage them to give kids a theater program,” said Jack Bush, 17, a student at Buena High School.

Madison Thomas, 17, also a Buena student, hopes that students have fun with the program.

“Kids are super fun to work with and they haven’t gotten the opportunity to do arts yet or to have this kind of fun or enrichment into their school life,” said Thomas.

Duerk said that having students from the high school working as teachers is a beneficial experience for them.

“You never really know something until you try to teach it to another person,” said Duerk. “Anytime we can get our students working at the teaching level with other students, it’s incredibly beneficial.”

After the first rehearsal last Thursday, Bush and Thomas said it proceeded smoothly.

“A lot of the kids were really getting the material and even memorizing really well,” said Bush. “And a lot were very energetic about being in this play.”

Thomas said she looks forward to seeing the students develop and refine their skills throughout the program.

“I think one of the things that’s most enjoyable to look for is how they are going to grow, grow personally within themselves,” said Thomas. “They are going to gain confidence, they’re going to know who they are and it’s going to be a wonderful time.”

Duerk said she hopes the program instills interest and enjoyment in the arts throughout their education and beyond.

“At the very least, it would be nice to have kids that appreciate the arts, and enjoy them into their adult life,” said Duerk. “At the most, these kids find something they love to do here and they continue to do it all the way through school.”