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Gold Rush Lesson Incorporates Student Drama
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A play about the Gold Rush helped fourth graders at Cloverland Elementary School transfer what they learned from a textbook and get a better idea of its realities and have some fun, too. Cloverland teachers Christina Carmelich and Cindy Bellinger assigned roles to their students who then learned lines in a musical called “Gold Dust or Bust.”

“Students learned about the Gold Rush first via curriculum… But the play enhanced and deepened their knowledge of the hardships that people had to incur during the time of the Gold Rush period,” Carmelich explained. “I think they truly understood the beginning of the ‘retail market’ and how that was where the true riches were made by the people coming West, not the gold.”

On May 16 the fourth graders went to Oakdale High School to perform their musical for the high school drama students. After watching the play, Carmelich said that the drama students gave the younger students feedback about what parts worked and what parts needed work. The drama students also helped the fourth graders build up their stage presence, giving them tips on acting, singing, and dancing. Games to build improvisational skills were among the ways the older students helped relate with the younger ones, as well as teaching them a dance.

The students rotated to different “stations” for acting, singing, and dancing, spending about 15 minutes in each session.

“(This is an) awesome example of mentoring, serving, developing our talents, and just being terrific people,” said district GATE teacher Brenda Combs when she heard about the students working together. Combs also frequently has students perform plays to better learn material.

After receiving the assistance from the high school drama students the fourth graders had a chance to show their new and improved “Gold Dust or Bust” performance to parents and community members on the stage in the OHS Theater in two evening performances.

The Cloverland fourth graders first performed “Gold Dust or Bust” at the school’s Family Fun Night in mid-April. Characters in the play included a large chorus, Gold Fever singers, Overlanders, Argonauts, Pan Miners, City Miners, Children of the Miners, Merchants, and others. Main characters included Luzena Wilson played by Chloe Kerr, Becky played by Makenna Dyson, John Sutter played by Eric DeGraff, James Marshall played by Liam Van Hees, Sam played by Caleb Jensen, the Carnival Barker played by Charlie Frame, and Johnny the Announcer played by Kyler Garcia.

Fourth grade student Ava Mack choreographed all the dances for her peers to perform in the musical and also acted in two roles, as a gold fever singer, and was one of the children of a miner.