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Improv for Education brings students together for laughs and entertainment

Under the watch of instructor Jen Warwick, right, students from Whatcom County, from left, Moriah Wolter, Kevin Maier and Truxton McCoy rehearse during an improv class Wednesday March 17, 2010 in Bellingham at the Upfront Theatre. The students will have a public performance at the Improv for Education annual fundraiser, for the Communities in Schools, on March 27.
Under the watch of instructor Jen Warwick, right, students from Whatcom County, from left, Moriah Wolter, Kevin Maier and Truxton McCoy rehearse during an improv class Wednesday March 17, 2010 in Bellingham at the Upfront Theatre. The students will have a public performance at the Improv for Education annual fundraiser, for the Communities in Schools, on March 27. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

BELLINGHAM - Options High School junior Michelle Ewing looks forward to Wednesday afternoons when she gets to pretend. One minute she might be an acorn, then the next minute a passenger on a cruise ship, and the next a patient at a doctor's office.

Ewing is one of more than a dozen students in this year's Improv for Education program, a drop-out prevention effort by Communities in Schools of Whatcom County.

"I've always been kind of interested in drama and improv," the 17-year-old said. "But I also joined because I'm going through kind of a hard time in my life.

"If it wasn't for coming here, I don't think I'd be really motivated to do anything else."

Improv for Education was created last school year as a way to offer a new extracurricular activity for teenagers. Communities in Schools of Whatcom County, which has been working with Bellingham and Nooksack Valley school districts for about two years, is the local branch of a national nonprofit organization that connects schools and students with community services, all in the name of helping kids and teenagers overcome obstacles and be successful in school and life.

During the four-month program, students get a chance to work with Upfront Theatre performers and learn improvisational skills. The program culminates with live performance at the annual Communities in Schools fundraiser.

But students are learning more than just improv, said Options teacher and Improv for Education instructor Leslie Umberger, who has also performed at the Upfront. They're also building confidence, understanding teamwork and learning to go with the flow.

"What I like most about this... it gives me a chance to see students outside of school, see different sides of them shine," Umberger said. "I think it's important for the community to look at teenagers in a positive light."

During the weekly gatherings at the Upfront Theatre, students play games that require quick thinking. While students may need the gentle reminder about being loud or "removing the editor in your head," as Umberger said during a recent meeting, getting them to jump on stage isn't a problem. Even though students are from four high schools, they have formed a close-knit team that can easily laugh together.

"When you always focus on school, it gets really hard," Ewing said. "Sometimes you just got to let go and learn how to play again."


ATTEND THE FUNDRAISER

What: Improv for Education annual fundraiser for Communities in Schools of Whatcom County.

When: 6 p.m. Saturday, March 27.

Where: Bellingham Golf and Country Club.

Features: dinner, silent auction, music, dessert-dash, improv comedy show.

Tickets: $75 for general admission, $50 for Whatcom County educators and administrators.

For more information about Communities in Schools of Whatcom County, or to purchase tickets, go to www.ciswhatcom.org or call 778-3759.

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