HANSEN • Students in Marisa Eastman’s class often spend more time in the front of the room than their teacher.

A blue cushioned bench was the centerpiece of Thursday’s lesson: an exercise called park bench improv.

Colton Berry sat on the bench, a confused look on his face, as he started.

“Do not ever say who you are or how old you are,” Eastman said from a desk. “Show, don’t tell.”

Berry was soon joined by another student, who didn’t say anything, but turned toward Berry and growled. One by one, other students joined the group.

“Remember, start out slowly and build up,” Eastman reminded them. “Stay in character. Establish who you are. You start out nonchalant with your character traits and build it so your character can’t be ignored. Until you are almost at an obnoxious level.”

Soon all four students were talking at once, pushing each other off the bench.

Last year marked the first time in five years drama was offered at Hansen Jr/Sr. High School.

The drama program ended in 2010 when cuts in other staff put more demand on the drama teacher. The program was brought back to Hansen when the district’s business teacher retired in 2014 and Eastman was hired.

“We did not have a replacement teacher for that program, and we began to look at other possible programming that would be of interest to students at Hansen,” said Kristin M. Beck-Trappen, Hansen School District superintendent.

“Although it was a huge loss to forgo our business classes, offering drama created another niche for students to get involved and many students have taken advantage of the opportunity. In turn, it has been a way to get more adults into the school. The drama productions have had a great turnout from the community over the past two years, it is also another way that parents and families can volunteer in our schools.”

The addition of drama helped round out the small selection of electives the school offers. Students can take five electives taught by Hansen staff for dual credit through the College of Southern Idaho. The school also offers physical education, weights, sociology, comparative cultures, music appreciation, study skills, yearbook, technical writing, humanities, welding, zoology/animal science, agriculture structures and agriculture mechanics.

“We strive to make the electives that we do offer varied and of high quality,” Beck-Trappen said.

There are 26 students in Eastman’s drama classes. She teaches ninth- and seventh-grade English and music appreciation. She is a certified drama teacher and has also taught at Glenns Ferry, Gooding and Castleford.

“The kids in drama are very bright and have responded well to drama,” Eastman said. “They are just so responsive. I could not be more pleased. This is one of the best experiences I’ve had. The community, like most people, like watching drama. And they have it right here so they don’t have to drive to Twin Falls.”

Eastman hoped the park bench improvisation exercise would help her students in April when some of them will compete in a one-act play competition in Pocatello April 22 and 23.

The Hansen School District recently received a $1,114 QuickFunds Grant from the Idaho Commission on the Arts, which will help pay for the competition. The students are also preparing for their spring play in early May.

Beck-Trappen said the district has been successful at obtaining several grants over the last couple of years to support teaching and learning. Some of the recent grants included a $2,500 Idaho STEM Action Center grant to purchase rockets and engines for the school’s physical science class, a $20,000 Idaho Future Fund Grant to support dual credit efforts on campus and a $3,200 donation from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to help the school purchase books for dual credit classes.

“I see this in a lot of small schools,” Eastman said. “They are losing their funding and a way to express themselves. None of these kids had ever been to a live play. Every kid should have that opportunity, regardless of where they go to school.”

Eastman said the remainder of the QuickFunds Grant will be used to buy wigs, more costumes and prosthetics for future drama productions. She would also like to buy a few more textbooks for the classroom. Besides acting, students have also learned about the history of masks and theater.

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“She (Eastman) has been a great addition to the staff and she has inspired students to be excited to be involved in the performing arts,” Beck-Trappen said.

Sophomore Hailee Bearce, 15, said Eastman’s drama class has helped her in other classes. Hailee used to get stage fright whenever she had to give a presentation or speak in class.

Drama class has helped her express herself in a way she never did before.

“You have to think of something off the top of your head,” Hailee said. “You don’t think about what others will think, you just do it. Once I took drama, I can go in front of any group.”

Freshman Eva Inglehart, 14, took the drama last year when she was a shy eighth-grader. She thought the class would help her break out of her shell and prepare for high school.

“I had super stage fright and was nervous around everyone,” Eva said.

Now, Eva approaches every presentation or speech like a performance.

Two years ago, Eva’s hands might have started shaking, but now she said she leaves classrooms amazed at how calm she is in front of an audience.

“I see this in a lot of small schools. They are losing their funding and a way to express themselves. None of these kids had ever been to a live play. Every kid should have that opportunity, regardless of where they go to school.” Marisa Eastman, Drama teacher

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