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Elementary GATE Students On Learning Mission
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GATE students at Magnolia Elementary School, from left, Aaron Lowe, Erika Gottleib, Jennifer Reeves, Samuel Winburn, Marylee Humke-Walden, and Ian Miller (seated) rehearse a scene from their play Mission To Mars that theyll perform for their families and fellow students. - photo by Dawn M. Henley/The Leader

District GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) students are getting ready for an out-of-this-world mission in the form of a play.
Under the direction of district GATE teacher Brenda Combs, students at Cloverland, Sierra View, Fair Oaks, and Magnolia elementary schools will perform an original play called “Mission to Mars.” Combs wrote the play and serves as the director. She helps the students with stage blocking, projecting their voices, and making the most out of their stage presence. Each school’s gifted learner program students will present several 60-minute performances, including an evening performance, of their version of the play to their peers, family and friends.
Combs frequently uses theater to incorporate different learning methods, help her students gain social skills, and meet state learning standards in the process.
“Theater gives students an opportunity to develop coping skills and learning strategies while meeting speaking and listening standards,” she said.
It also gives them a chance to gain confidence, apply their artistic talents, and still learn about the science and history of space exploration, she noted. The story takes place in a living room as a family plays an outer-space board game. As they roll the dice and move their game pieces along the board, they are visited by famous scientists, planets, and astronauts who talk about their accomplishments, some even do song and dance numbers.
“I wrote the play to help students understand the ancient scientists, modern astronauts, and scientific facts that have all contributed to our space program,” Combs said. “…I invited students to develop their own characters and write some of their own lines in the play which has sparked their creativity and enhanced their learning.”
Combs reported that the play has a few optional musical numbers, which vary from site to site. Some songs and music clips allow students with musical talents to use their creativity to express their knowledge and enthusiasm, she said.
She added that the play shares specific scientific knowledge but it also leads into the science unit, which follows the students’ theater unit and takes a deeper scientific look at space and helps meet various science standards.