Two students rehearse Lion King online. One lifts a stuffed animal lion cub into the air.

One student's vision to put together a school-wide production of the Lion King is coming true thanks to the dedication of staff at Gersh Academy West Hempstead. 

In the era of remote and hybrid schooling, schools must think of creative ways to engage their students socially outside of class time. The students and staff at West Hempstead are determined to keep their community and creativity flourishing this spring.

Ms. Woods, the school’s music teacher, has been helping students create, rehearse and record scenes from The Lion King as a way to bring students together virtually.

It started with a student. His friends call him a one-man show because he loves big, creative ideas. He posted to Gersh Academy’s music and art page, saying that he wanted to do a production of The Lion King and was holding auditions.

“It was amazing,” Ms. Woods remembered. “I said, all right then, I think I can help you out!”

Right now, some students are on a hybrid model, with a staggered schedule. Other families chose to continue remote learning.  “The kids haven’t had anything like this since last winter because so many of them are fully remote. Plus, the A-day kids don’t see the B-day kids. This is a great opportunity for kids from different classes with similar interests to do this together.”

Two students in masks attend Lion King Rehearsal online.

It also allowed students from different classes and age groups to interact. Students from elementary to high school are all collaborating to recreate iconic scenes and songs from The Lion King. Several of the scene parings, like Timon and Pumbaa or Nala and Simba, have one older student and one younger student, creating unofficial mentorships. Ms. Woods says that while it wasn’t planned, seeing the students support one another this way has been inspirational.

Two students rehearse Lion King online. One lifts a stuffed animal lion cub into the air.

The ethos is that anyone can be involved, no matter their interest or skill set. One student did not want to act, but is an incredible piano player, so Ms. Woods invited him to do a piano medley. He’s now working on it during piano lessons at home. Another student who was not very verbal when he started at Gersh has opened up so much that Ms. Woods is writing additional dialogue to give him a chance to showcase his newfound skills.

Other students are contributing visually. One class created a necklace of clouds for the iconic scene where Mufasa speaks to Simba from the sky. Other students drew each of the characters. Ms. Woods arranged that artwork and printed it as a decal, ironing them onto T-shirts to give to each of the participating students.

Decal on a T-shirt with character illustrations of the Lion King

To make sure that each person received a T-Shirt, Ms. Woods drove house-to-house to hand-deliver them to fully remote students. She said getting to meet families in person has been a great experience. She got a text from the mother of one student that couldn’t believe his teacher showed up at the door to make sure he got his T-shirt.

As for the student who started the idea: “He’s the director,” Ms. Woods said. “I’m just helping to make it happen.”

The next production, she says, might even be student-written, after the process prompted one student to begin his own play.  

In the meantime, production continues, with small group recordings already happening on Microsoft Teams. The big “Circle of Life” musical number is coming up, and Ms. Woods is looking forward to the challenge.

In the words of some iconic cartoon friends, ‘Hakuna Matata’!

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