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Whitefriars steps up to the challenge

Schools

Whitefriars Catholic School Year 5/6 students will never forget the events of 2020 but not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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They will remember it as a year when teamwork, perseverance and supporting each other earned them top prize in the national performing arts festival, Wakakirri.

Their video performance, Through the Smoke, was chosen from 40 entries from primary schools across Australia as the winner of the Story of the Year Dance Video Challenge.

Teacher Grace Loizos said when they were announced as winners via YouTube the students “screamed the roof in”.

Since then the students have dealt with the Statewide lockdown and disruption to their learning but Mrs Loizos said “the feeling of winning is still in them”.

“They are so proud within themselves and with each other…that will never leave them,” she said.

With its strong focus on performing arts, the Woodville Park school has been participating in the Wakakirri Challenge every other year since it began in 2013, with a whole-of-school concert in alternate years.

The Challenge normally takes place at the Entertainment Centre but uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 resulted in a decision eventually being taken to replace live performances with video productions.

“The children were very worried that they weren’t going to be able to do it this year,” Mrs Loizos said.

“When they found out they could do a video they were very motivated and very enthusiastic.”

With only eight weeks to put the performance together, Whitefriars performing arts teacher Melanie Harrald worked with the directors of Ground Force Studios to come up with the idea of a story inspired by the Adelaide Hills bushfires and based on a book by local author Phil Cummings called Through the Smoke.

There was the added challenge of incorporating the Wakakirri ‘signature character’ for 2020 – a dragon – which they did by using fire-breathing dragons to start the fire.

All 98 students in Years 5 and 6 participated in the performance in the school gym while parents and staff helped make the set and costumes using recycled materials and props from previous years.

Students had one lesson a week to learn each section and practised for an hour every day to perfect the different forms of dance, drama and mime.

“The judges were really impressed with the emotion on the children’s faces,” Mrs Loizos said. “Learning how to express their feelings and emotions was a big part of the performance.”

Wakakirri, Australia’s largest performing arts festival for schools aims to develop student engagement and wellbeing through the sharing of stories and participation in the performing arts.

Announcing Whitefriars as the winner of the primary school category, actor Andrew McFarlane said he loved the “simplicity of the sets, the funky music” and the way it “really brought home the terror of the bushfires”.

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