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The Play's the Thing To Make a Kid a King

Jennifer Prager created EXALT (EXcellence and Achievement in Life's Theatre) to reach students with special needs. Originally Prager developed several plays for classroom management in her four years of teaching a class for students with emotional disturbances. Now on special assignment in the Special Education Office, she is implementing EXALT throughout the Long Beach Unified School District. EXALT incorporates literacy and theater as a means of building academic confidence, personal independence and self-efficacy. The payoff is in increasing the level of academic and personal success in the classroom. She uses the plays to support the development of individuals who are then better able to function behaviorally in society. EXALT is designed to open up the world of performance to students. Based on the idea that students learn best when they are actively engaged in creative learning, the performances provide the opportunity to exhibit confidence, take risks and express oneself. Prager visits 12 schools a year, four at a time, for 12 weeks, culminating with a student performance at every school. The plays they use are predominantly original works written by Prager or the students, or adaptations from fables, tales or other books. Recent performances have captivated student audiences at Hoover Middle School and Los Cerritos and Henry elementary schools. In only 12 weeks the students read, practice and memorize a script, learn stage directions and stage terms, create masks, paint the backdrops, make the props and perform the final plays. At Henry, students performed Who Am I?, written by Prager, which highlights the many identities of one's self. It teaches that people are complex beings who are uniquely individual and yet still have many things in common. "Performance is a mode of expression which taps into many important qualities in school and life," said Prager. "It takes hard work and dedication. It requires memorization and the ability to recall information. It allows one to step into the mind of another character and walk around awhile. But, most importantly, it gives students the opportunity to laugh and have a lot of fun while they learn."