Overton Elementary welcomes parents, friends for ‘The Home of Happy Feet’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 23, 2019

By Andie Foley

In a crowded classroom just paces away from Overton Elementary’s auditorium on Tuesday, art teacher Denise Paugh brought temporary pause to flurry of movement.

The room was abuzz with third through fifth grade learners, each in the throes of last-minute costume adjustments for a collection of suits, flapper dresses and glittering gowns. Some tied ties while others pinned skirts, the combined effort a work to bring to life the evening’s production: “The Home of Happy Feet,” an original play by Paugh.

Then came the pause as Paugh called the group to attention, proffering a bag of glittering necklaces, earrings and more. The pieces were treasures passed on from Paugh’s grandmother, which the Overton teacher offered as the pièce de résistance in Tuesday’s period costuming effort.

With the final touch added, the group proceeded onward to the auditorium for their production, the first in many years held at Overton.

“The Home of Happy Feet” was based on the story of the Savoy Ballroom in New York City’s Harlem, which opened its doors in March of 1926. The pink and mirrored ballroom was modeled after the Roseland Ballroom, a mostly white swing dance club.

Because of its location, the Savoy extended opportunities for a ballroom, swing dance experience to all, and it drew a near-constant crowd with its no-discrimination policy until it closed its doors in 1958.

Actors in the play were members of the school’s after school Dance and Theatre Club. The group began working on the play in December, with the whole school working together to support the endeavor through costuming, set design and more.

Tuesday’s event was offered for free to the entire Overton school body and their families. As a bonus, all students who attended were offered a complementary T-shirt featuring a design by third-grader Camille Turner. Students had screen printed the design themselves.

According to Paugh, the most difficult part of the production had been getting learners to grasp the big picture. For many involved, this was their first production, she said, and the show had many moving parts: set design, costuming, acting, singing, dancing and more.

“It’s more because they’ve never seen how this sort of thing all comes together in the end,” she said. “Getting them to buy into it all was really the biggest challenge.”

But things had changed with the production behind them, she said following the show.

“I feel like it’s something they’re going to continue to have an interest in,” said Paugh. “Now, they want to experience it again.”

For other faculty and staff members at Overton, Tuesday’s event offered a wealth of other opportunities outside of experiencing theatre and play production. The play’s subject offered a chance to explore a new time period in the nation’s history, jazz music, swing dancing and more, said Principal Candice Austin.

STEM and Accelerated Studies Specialist Spring Roseman said the production and the school’s many after-school clubs were an effort to keep parents engaged and build community relationships. Both, she said, were identified as needs within the Overton school campus.

“Our goal is to build a more positive home-to-school connection,” said Roseman. “Having events like these has really helped us foster a culture of community.”

And parents were more likely to engage with the school system with the negative connotation of school visits broken, she said: no longer were trips to the school merely about academic shortcomings or struggles or identified behavioral issues. Events like “The Home of Happy Feet” were purely for fun and building relationships.

This in turn fostered a more open line of communication with families, she said.

Of course, there were a few opportunities for fundraising too: VIP seating tables at the front of the stage and $1 concessions such as water and popcorn. The funds would filter back into the school’s after-school offerings or to other identified site needs, said Roseman.

The hope, she said, was that these extracurricular sessions would continue to grow. The school was exploring a means of providing transportation to the sessions through its new funding flexibility offered through Rowan County’s Renewal Status.

Transportation had been identified another barrier in parental engagement, as many families had two working parents with conflicting schedules.

“This really was a whole school effort,” said Principal Austin. “We hope to continue to see this program grow in the future.”