Talent That Shines: Grant Supports School-Theater Partnership

Fifth and sixth grade students at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Alexandria had the chance to act on a professional stage thanks to a newly forged partnership with the local Andria Theatre. The partnership was made possible by a grant from the Catholic Community Foundation’s (CCF) President’s Fund.

“At St. Mary’s, we try to think outside the box and provide as many unique experiences as we can,” says Principal Troy Sladek.

Together with St. Mary’s Music Director Jane Herth and Andria Theatre’s Executive Director Ann Hermes, they reviewed a list of funding opportunities to cover the program materials, licensing fees, costumes, and theater staff time. And that’s how Sladek found CCF.

CCF Program Officer Meg Payne Nelson describes Sladek’s phone call as a “Holy Spirit moment.”  

“The concept aligned perfectly with the types of strategies and initiatives CCF has focused on supporting at Catholic schools,” says Nelson. “The program will contribute to the long-term sustainability of the school by providing an additional offering to St. Mary’s sixth grade students who might consider transferring to the public middle school. Plus, the grant is merely seed money—the program will continue into the future using revenue from the first year’s ticket sales and free-will donations.”  

All 48 fifth- and sixth-graders performed “Winnie the Pooh Kids” on March 21st at the downtown theater, but the entire student body at the kindergarten through sixth grade school benefited. Third and fourth grade students participated in a week-long theater workshop, and the theater’s artistic director also presented to kindergarten and first grade students.

Hunter, a sixth grader at St. Mary’s, told the Alexandria Echo Press how the experience fostered teamwork and self-confidence.

“I was able to see different sides of people and what they are capable of doing,” she says. “My friends and I had so much fun rehearsing and learning in a new way outside the classroom.”

St. Mary’s has already committed to another program next school year, fully funded by ticket sales and free-will donations. 

Sladek says he’s thankful for the financial support from CCF. Even more than encouraging sustained enrollment in the sixth grade, he hopes the experience piqued students’ creative interests and opened doors that will lead to roles in high school theater productions or future performances on the Andria Theatre stage.

“The grant allowed us to do it all and do it well,” he says.

Photos provided by Jeff Roste, Creative Impact Design