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Vickroy: Oak Forest students perform in their own circus

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Updated: July 1, 2014 6:19AM



There were amazing feats of strength, superhuman displays of agility and astounding acts of showmanship when students at Morton Gingerwood School in Oak Forest put on their version of the greatest show on Earth on Wednesday.

The two-ring circus featured acrobats, jugglers and more than a few mustached clowns.

Mohamad Oubaid awed with balancing sticks.

“It’s fun to do new things and see new friends,” the 8-year-old said. His favorite part of the show? “When we all climb onto the ladder.”

Wearing a colorful top hat, Olivia Hughes, 8, was “a natural” at walking atop the rolling globe, teacher Vicky Macha said.

And star-studded Makenzi Whitcomb, 8, wowed the crowd with her tight wire act.

Under the tutelage of Cirque Amongus, a Michigan-based hands-on program designed to develop motor skills and promote teamwork, the first- and second-graders spent the day learning a variety of new skills, from juggling to trapeze work to riding a teeny tiny bicycle.

Then they donned funky vests, crazy top hats and lots of face paint before they headed for the Big Top ­— in this case, the parking lot, where an audience of wildly cheering moms, dads and siblings awaited.

DeShaun Stephens liked the multicolored swirls his makeup artist applied to his face.

“I look good,” the 8-year-old said.

It was a fun day for all, and students and staff had gym teacher Tom Flynn to thank for that.

Flynn attended a physical education conference in the fall. Principal Camille Hogan expected him to come back and ask for more jump ropes or talk about new developments in cardiovascular training.

“Instead, he asked for a circus,” she said. After about five minutes of pondering the idea, Hogan said, she gave the thumbs-up.

Flynn said he has fond memories of going to see Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus when he was a kid.

“My parents worked at the (Chicago) Amphitheater,” he said. “They’d get us out of school early to go and meet the circus performers at the train.”

Many of them got to know Flynn and his sister by name.

“Gunther Gebel has kids our age, so it was fun for everyone,” he said.

When Flynn met the Cirque Amongus guys at the teachers workshop, he immediately began juggling the notion of bringing the team to Oak Forest.

“I loved the program. Everyone is included, everyone is successful, everyone performs,” he said.

Indeed, all 309 students in the primary school got to try their hand at juggling, balancing, hula hooping and tumbling. Then, each was assigned to a specific group of performers. Some were cyclists, some trapeze artists and some became ringmasters extraordinaire.

Cirque Amongus owner Sem Abrahams said the program began 14 years ago as a way for performers to work and share skills during their offseason. The group visits schools and camps as well as fairs, festivals and other events in the Chicago and Detroit areas.

In addition to a new skill sure to impress family and friends all summer long, the children gain confidence, self-esteem, showmanship and teamwork, Abrahams said.

“It’s a chance for kids who might not always shine to be in the spotlight,” he said.

In addition Hogan said the children learn the value of keeping at something until it is mastered.

“That’s critical,” she said. “The kid who doesn’t have perseverance these days will be frustrated in school and in life. They need to learn that even when something is difficult, it is worth working at.”

Plus, she said, it’s a fun day and a chance for all of the students to gather and work toward a common goal.

Steve Rezack’s 8-year-old daughter Mikayla was on the trapeze.

“I loved the show,” he said. “It’s something different and fun, a nice way to finish off the school year.”

Laura Sanders was among the 45 parents who served as “straw bosses,” or volunteer helpers. Parents attended a meeting the night before. They each were assigned a specific task — circus arts instructor, wardrobe chief or makeup artist.

Those who would become instructors learned three ways to teach a particular skill. The following day, the adults tended to rotating groups of youngsters.

Sanders’ son, Aidan Schipits, 7, was among the equilibristics performers who balanced poles on their palms and each other on ladders.

“I loved this experience from start to finish,” she said. “It was so well organized and so well thought out. Each kid felt included. It was absolutely precious. I will treasure the memory of this day forever.”

One by one, the 10 acts took the stage to perform. Each was introduced by a caped ringmaster.

At the end of the show, Abrahams announced that because the performers did such a good job, “There would be no school on (Saturday) May 31.”

He also said the circus would revert back to a school, once Principal Hogan “Crosses the wire.”

Under pressure from the roaring crowd, Hogan accepted the challenge, placing one foot in front of the other as she deftly traversed the tight rope.



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