Zion Rumble raced in disbelief through the hallways at Jefferson Elementary in the West Jefferson Hills School District. The hallways were wider, lockers bigger and there were multiple floors for just the elementary kids. Gadgets filled the STEAM lab; students have an art room and lots of bathrooms.
At Clairton Elementary, where Zion attended fifth grade, everything seems smaller, and they have less. The kids repeatedly talk about how the elementary art teacher position was cut, and the art room was turned into a music classroom. Kids now learn art in their other classes, while teachers are also trying to teach English and math.
As part of Pittsburgh Public Theater’s Creative Dramatics program, kids from two districts of different socioeconomic backgrounds — like Clairton and West Jefferson Hills — have the chance to learn an adaptive Shakespearean work, rehearse and perform together, tour each other’s schools and get to know one another.
“Clairton better watch out. They’re going to be losing a bunch of kids when they see this,” said Zion during an October rehearsal at Jefferson, as she hugged nearly everything she came in contact with, from lockers to vending machines. “Can you give me a membership to this school?” her classmate Javian Kesner, a fifth grader at Clairton in 2017-18, said as he explored Jefferson Elementary School with her.
Abby Kauffman, a fourth grader at Gill Hall Elementary in the West Jefferson Hills School District in 2017-18, seemed to understand the difference between her world and those of the Clairton students. As students from both districts ate lunch together and compared their schools, Abby said she feels lucky. “Some people aren’t as fortunate as us. I’m just very lucky my dad works a good job and we’re able to have a house and a nice school,” Abby said.