Homeschoolers band together to create extracurricular opportunities
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com April 22, 2013 5:08PM
Samantha Polsky, 16, of Glenwood, (left) and Corrinne Toth, 17, of Chicago Heights, get fitted with costumes while participating with other home schooled students in a dress rehearsal of the play Midsummer Night's Dream at Eagle Rock Church in Homer Glen Thurssday, April 11, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
If you go ...
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
7 p.m. Thursday and Friday
Eagle Rock Community Church
14367 W. 159th St., Homer Glen
Call: (708) 912-4324
Updated: May 26, 2013 6:05AM
Even if all the world is a stage, it would be difficult to put on a Shakespearean play without a full cast of characters.
Enter SELAH — Southside Enrichment for Language Arts and History — a nonprofit group of homeschooling families who are trying to enrich the lives of young people, one act a time.
On any given Thursday, dozens of families from throughout the Southland take over Eagle Rock Community Church in Homer Glen to offer a healthy outlet for artistic expression through drama, art, literature, guitar and history classes for their fourth- through 12th-graders.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, students paraded around in togas and fairy costumes as they rehearsed William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” speaking their lines as eloquently as the Bard intended.
The play will be performed at 7 p.m. April 25 and 26 at the church.
These families may be mortals, but they be not fools. They realize the benefits of pooling their talents together to provide such opportunities for creativity and personal growth.
Kim Polsky, of Glenwood, said the art and drama classes are the most popular. Staging a play at home is hard to do with only two kids, she said. Her daughter, Samantha, has been dancing and performing on stage since she was 5, but never had to speak on stage. In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Samantha is Titania, queen of the fairies.
“This has been great for her self-confidence,” her mother said.
Being in such a play helps the students to “come out of themselves,” said Carla Toth, a Chicago Heights parent. “We were looking for a high school group where my daughter could use her creative talents.”
The students agree Shakespeare’s language is a challenge, but it’s not one from which they shy away.
“At first, it’s like speaking a foreign language,” Samantha Polsky said. “It’s not as hard as I thought.”
“The language is like poetry,” said Marty Hopman, who has been in quite a few plays. His role as Bottom is one of his more challenging roles, he said.
“It’s a lot of hard work getting it right,” said Emma Knabe, who plays Helena. “She’s one of my favorite characters from literature. She’s the most human, and she goes through such a wide range of emotions.
“We’re not just putting on a play,” Emma said. “We’re learning literature.”
Guiding the students act by act is drama teacher and parent Gwen Bielicki, who helped organized SELAH as a nonprofit homeschooling cooperative in July 2011. Some of these students have been studying Shakespeare and drama with her for a few years.
“We wanted a program that would get kids using their language skills,” she said. “This pushes them out of their comfort zone. We learn when we try new things.”
Students are split into two drama groups: Footlights, for fourth- through sixth-graders; and Spotlights, for seventh- through 12th-graders. Footlights recently performed “Mean to be Free: A Flight North on the Underground Railroad,” a topic they also studied in history class.
Students get involved in every aspect of producing a play — they help design the costumes and the sets, and do the lighting and music. Even former students come back to assist with the costumes and the production.
Earlier in the year, the students all studied this Shakespearean play in their literature class.
“Gwen makes learning Shakespeare so much fun,” Polsky said. “My kids go around the house quoting Shakespeare.”
At each play, students also exhibit their artwork and history projects and host a bake sale. All proceeds go back into the program.
Field trips to the Shakespeare Theater at Chicago’s Navy Pier, or an architectural boat tour down the Chicago River, further enhance the experiences for the drama and art students.
“I don’t know where else I would have gotten this experience,” said Jonathan Walters, a student from Park Forest.
John Hopman, of New Lenox, has also performed in community theater, but prefers the SELAH drama group.
“It’s so much more fun. I love acting with my friends,” he said. “I’ve been homeschooled my whole life and all my friends are homeschooled. Here, they act more Christian, they are more cooperative and it’s more fun.”
While Bielicki takes her drama students through the scenes, parent Barb Czaja is providing art lessons in the gym.
“I teach the kids what I know,” she said. A 4-by-6-foot mural the students did was used a backdrop for one of the plays.
“It’s important to work with others in creating things,” she said of such group projects. “We all pool our talents together. It works out great.”