Mandan school to use theater to help students handle stress

Published: Mar. 18, 2019 at 7:09 AM CDT
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A Mandan elementary school has launched a new stress-relief program in which students write, direct and perform their own stage plays, and a performance for parents is planned for next month.

Mary Stark Elementary School is partnering with Bismarck theater Dakota Stage Ltd. for a six-week performing arts program for students, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

The Mandan school's literacy coach, Vonda Dahl, has researched the toll that stress at home can take on students' learning.

"Every classroom has a certain number of students that are experiencing some sort of chronic stress," said Dahl, who also works as the Mandan school district's media literacy coordinator.

Research shows that prolonged stress "physically changes the landscape of the brain," Dahl said. "But the good news is, the brain can change."

She's found that physical activity, playing chess, music and performing and visual arts can aid students under stress.

Joshua Johnson, the executive director of Dakota Stage, said he isn't sure that performing arts can reduce stress, but he's observed other benefits through the theater's Shade Trees Players program for students ages 7 to 18.

"I have observed a certain relief with kids," Johnson said. "For the majority of kids (in the Shade Tree program), once they get into what they're doing, everything else seems to cease to exist for that amount of time, and it's an opportunity for kids to really live in the moment."

The elementary school program will help students build a stage play "from the ground up," Johnson said.

"They're going to be writing, producing and performing the shows," he said.

The program will hold a performance for parents at Mandan High School next month.

Dahl said school officials plan to measure how the theater program affects students academically by reviewing classroom grades and district assessments. She hopes to continue the program next year.