VOLTA — On a rainy morning on Merced County's rural West Side, students learned why grass is green and the sky is blue, but in a different form than normal.
Instead of listening at their desk while their teacher went through a lesson, Volta Elementary School students were seated in the cafeteria watching a play combining myth, science, theater and fun.
The play, titled "The Science of Color," was written by Playhouse Merced Education Director Noelle Chandler to include aspects of the science curriculum for third- and fourth- graders. She sees this medium as an effective educational tool.
"Live theater allows students to look at facts and theories through the lens of interactive storytelling, without a doubt the most effective teaching method I've ever come across," said Chandler.
The nearly hourlong interactive play was performed by Playhouse Merced veterans Michelle Kittel, 26, and Danielle Rodriguez, 27.
"We tried to tell the mythological and scientific reasons for why things are the color they are," Kittel said.
This was one of about 40 performances at schools throughout the county. The Merced County Office of Education is partnering with county school districts to cover half of the $200-per-show cost.
"Because of state cuts to school funding, most school districts have reduced or completely cut visual and performing arts from the school day. We want to help provide students with these experiences during the school year, and provide visual and performing art programs during the summer through the MCOE Foundation," said Steve Gomes, county superintendent of schools.
Gomes said his office appreciates the partnership with Playhouse Merced, with the educational and entertainment value it brings to county students.
Kurt Eusebio, 9, a third-grader, volunteered to come onstage as an audience participant.
"I learned why the grass is green and why the sky is blue," he said, smiling after the play.
Kurt says his favorite subjects are reading and science.
He had never seen a play before "The Science of Color," but hopes that he has the chance to attend another performance.
"It really is about the kids," Rodriguez said. "We get teachers that say 'we're so appreciative that you're here, we don't really get a chance to have this because we don't have the budget.' "
Chandler agrees students' access to visual and performing arts is crucial.
"When students gain access to live theater that's relevant to their lives, it makes them better students and better artists," Chandler said. "The performing arts aren't dead, but they are in peril; by allowing performance back into the schools, we create confident, communicative, critically thinking kids."
To visit or book teaching artists from Playhouse Merced, call Chandler at (209) 725-8587 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.