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Bill Edwards Foundation hosts children’s festival

Mark Parker



Hundreds of local students will receive hands-on art, music and literacy education Wednesday on the Mahaffey Theater’s outdoor plaza. And have fun, too.

Now in its 12th year, the Mahaffey’s Class Acts Youth Educational Performance Series is presenting its latest BAM! (books, art and music) Fest, for participating schoolchildren. With the support of the Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts (BEFA), 400 students from six regional counties will take part in several activity stations and engage in social-emotional learning.

Activities include an interactive drum circle, art demonstrations, book giveaways and theater games. Amy Miller, president of the foundation, said the ages of the students tend to skew younger, with the oldest children in third and fourth grade. For many, the festival will be their first experience with the arts.

“It’s a really special day,” said Miller, “and I think anything you can do to kick kids out of the traditionally structured classroom environment to make learning more fun is really beneficial.”

Giving Tree Music will lead the students in the interactive drum circle to promote collaboration and listening. Miller noted that activity is one of the most popular and said organizers had to create waiting lists in previous years.

Many of the kids, she added, have never played an instrument before participating in the drum circle at BAM! Fest. She said one student goes to the center to lead the others, and performing in front of people builds confidence. She also expressed her amazement at how quickly they pick up and maintain the beat.

“They’re so little, and you think they’d be really scared or shy to get up in front of everybody,” said Miller. “But they do it, and it’s great. I remember the first time I saw it, I almost cried.”

Miller said the foundation buys pallets of books, and one of the foundation’s corporate sponsors is providing 23 volunteers to help organize and distribute them for a free book fair. The Warehouse Arts District Association (WADA) will help students learn about warm and cool colors and tessellations by creating paper mosaic bookmarks.

Wednesday’s outdoor festival is a spinoff of the Class Acts Performance Series, which has been bringing bay area students to the Mahaffey – for educational theatrical performances – for 29 years. The Foundation took it over from the City of St. Petersburg when Edwards assumed management of the theater 12 years ago.

The Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts has overseen the Class Acts Educational Performance Series at the Mahaffey Theater for 12 years.

The Class Acts Performance Series, said Miller, is like a baby to Edwards. She relayed his love for children’s programming and teaching local kids about music and the arts.

“He definitely did not want it to disappear,” she said. “He definitely wanted to make sure that continued on.”

Every Class Acts program correlates with Florida curriculum standards, said Miller, and features math, science, language arts and history components. It also promotes social-emotional learning and world culture education.

Miller said the events provide a unique learning experience where students can create and use their imaginations. She also noted that kids forge new friendships and lasting memories while building self-esteem.

In addition, Miller said the program enriches the lives of children by introducing them to arts and nontraditional career fields.

“There’s just an enormous amount of careers out there that are related to arts,” she said. “I think if the kids can get inspired by that, it opens up a whole new world of opportunities for them.”

For more information on the Class Acts Educational Performance Series, visit the website here.

For more information on the Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts, visit the website here.


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