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A big year for student outreach

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

Park City Performing Arts Foundation, in conjunction with Sundance Institute’s Filmmakers in the Classroom, kicked off its 2007 student outreach program with director Billy Luther and his film, "Miss Navajo."

The foundation, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has booked more outreach sessions than ever before, said outreach coordinator, Ginger Tolman. "We’re very lucky; only about four of the performers can’t do it due to scheduling conflicts," she said.

When the nonprofit foundation began in 1998, it made a pledge, executive director, Teri Orr, said. It was a promise to give back to the community through master classes and performances for the children of Summit County.

And since its inception, the foundation has done just that, with about 70 percent of its performers doing some form of student outreach. Orr estimates more than 100,000 children in private, public and home schools have been able to experience this incredible opportunity.

"There are not very many kids that get a chance to have award-winning singers, dancers, actors and directors come into the classroom and talk to them," Tolman said. "The classroom aspect of it is really unique, and most of the sessions are very intimate."

"Miss Navajo," is a part of the Sundance Institute Documentary Series, a free monthly screening series held at the Park City Library that presents some of the best nonfiction films from the previous year’s Sundance Film Festival.

After the film’s showing at the library Wednesday, Billy Luther and two of the film’s stars, Crystal Frazier, the young women running for Miss Navajo, and Sunny Dooley, Miss Navajo Nation from 1982 to 1983, hosted a question-and-answer session.

While the input at the library was a little tentative and slow going, at Ecker Hill International Middle School the next day, the students’ questions were quite a different story.

After a segment of the film was shown, Luther and Frazier came onstage to field questions. Hands shot up in the air, with kids waving and reaching higher and higher to get called upon.

"We’ve been visiting lots of high schools and middle schools," Luther, who has been on tour with the film since its premiere at Sundance, said. "and we always get the best questions there."

Libby Wadman, a sixth-grade reading teacher at Ecker Hill, told the pair about how the film’s depiction of being caught between two cultures is very similar to the situation at their school where many students span two cultures and languages. She asked them to give the children advice.

"It really comes down to finding self value and worth in who you are," Frazier said. "Everybody has to go through that stage of self discovery, and when you finally become confident and comfortable, it shows in everything else you do."

This is the kind of intimate connection between the students and performers that Tolman spoke of. It is this kind of outreach that is so integral to providing a holistic type of education, she said.

"It’s a great way to expand children’s horizons and allow them to interact with other cultures," Tolman said. "Performing arts help kids to see and think differently.

Orr said the Eccles Foundation has a close relationship with the school district, and if the teachers and administrators weren’t as receptive as they are, this program would not be as successful.

"It is exciting to work with teachers who value art in the school system," she said.

From the very first outreach session in 1998 with Bill Cosby until today, the foundation has spent more than $1 million on the program, which is free for students. Orr said the foundation has a terrific sponsor this year, but in the future, they would like to build a fund to make sure this kind of outreach continues.

If you happened to miss "Miss Navajo" at the library’s screening, the film will appear on the PBS show "Independent Lens," on Tuesday, Nov. 13.


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