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Students Take Virtual Field Trip to the Theater

Nov. 10, 2020 – Legendary boxer Cassius Clay was a master at adapting to what his opponents would try to do to him in the boxing ring. He would bounce around the ring to throw off his opponent’s timing. Or he would bob and weave to avoid their punches, even to the point of them wearing themselves out. Likewise, schools, teachers and students are all adapting to their learning environments—no matter what gets thrown their way. Even school field trips have taken on a new look.

That was the case recently for students at several SSD schools when they attended their first virtual field trip. Thanks to the Metro Theater Company, students were able to attend a performance of the play “And in this Corner: Cassius Clay.”

The play features the iconic story of boxer Cassius Clay, who would later change his name to Muhammed Ali. In it, viewers learn about his upbringing in the Jim Crow-era South, and how his community and surroundings created the person he would become.

“When the play first premiered two years ago, we took Ackerman students to see it performed and they loved it,” said Ackerman teacher Margery Doss. “When I learned of the virtual performance opportunity, I shared it with my colleagues and now we have staff and students from Ackerman, Neuwoehner and Southview participating.”

According to Metro Theater Company (MTC) managing director Joe Gfaller, MTC has shifted its focus to virtual programming and events to ensure they could still connect with youth, teachers and families despite the obvious limitations.

“To start adapting to this new medium took a little bit of work, and of course we continue to learn how to improve our efforts with each new event—but we’ve been so pleased with the outcome of these programs,” Gfaller said. “It’s clear that even during these challenging times, young people are hungry for opportunities to connect to the arts virtually.”

The performance had a strong impact on the students, as Doss said one student even changed their Zoom screen name to Muhammed Ali, even though the student had never heard of the boxer before watching the play.

“I even got some thank yous from students,” said Doss, admitting that’s a significant accomplishment coming from middle schoolers.

Southview teacher Stephanie Canady-Purvis enjoyed having her class learn about the historical icon, while also sharing her personal experience of having met him.

“When I was little, Muhammed Ali was training in St. Louis and ran past my grandparents’ house in the city and picked me up and ran with a huge crowd following,” Canady-Purvis said.

She added how many of her students had not experienced live performance theater, and how she was able to connect the story to lessons in her class about character traits and problem solving. 

“Once we are able to resume in-person programs, I imagine that virtual programs will remain a part of how we offer what we offer,” Gfaller said. “In a way, COVID-19 has leveled the playing field to help improve our ability to serve all schools.”