WENDELL — Draycen Lamm dangled his legs Wednesday while sitting at a desk, mumbling a little as he recited his lines for a play.
“Make sure you’re not putting your hands in front of your face,” former M*A*S*H* actress Connor Snyder told the Wendell boy. She was having trouble hearing the dialogue.
Last week, the Wendell School District’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program offered a “Kids 4 Broadway” STEM theater camp for elementary and middle schoolers.
It’s a nationwide traveling program to teach children about theater. And this particular camp was focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
A 17-member cast of first through seventh-graders performed “The Inventive Inn” on Friday for their family members and friends.
The play is about a Midwest family who loses power at their bed and breakfast during a thunderstorm.
Scientists from the past — such as Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei — come to visit and explain their inventions.
With nearly 80 percent of Wendell students considered economically disadvantaged, the camp was a chance to try out an activity they may not be exposed to otherwise.
“They’re learning there’s just this whole other world out there beyond Wendell, Idaho,” said Jennifer Clark, director of Wendell’s 21st Century program.
Last year, the Wendell School District received $179,550 in federal funding to launch a 21st Century program. Grants are renewable for up to five years.
Students at high-poverty schools have access to academic help, and activities such as dance and robotics.
A handful of other Magic Valley schools, including in Mini-Cassia, also participate in the program.
Wendell’s after-school program launched in October 2016 and serves about 90 kindergarten through eighth-graders. There’s also a nine-day summer session, which is underway now, that focuses on STEM fields.
The purpose is to keep children engaged and learning over the summer, Clark said.
After receiving an invitation from Snyder to bring the Kids 4 Broadway program to Wendell, Clark decided it would be a good use of some remaining 21st Century funds for this year.
Snyder founded Kids 4 Broadway in 1991. Her theater career has included television show appearances — such as “Nurse Able” on M*A*S*H in the 1970s — plus time as an HBO writer and producer for “The Travel Journal.” And she co-starred in a road tour for “Marriage Go Round.”
She has directed more than 350 children’s theater productions across the United States — mostly, at 21st Century Community Learning Centers and U.S. Air Force Boys & Girls Clubs.
Last week, Wendell students prepared for the play in just five days, from auditions Monday to a performance Friday.
At first, students were hesitant when Clark asked who wanted to audition for the play. Only one student raised their hand.
But once auditions started, “the next thing we know, everyone wanted to,” she said.
The 52 Wendell students who didn’t receive a role in the play did science experiments on stage before the performance.
Middle schoolers, for example, did a demonstration using static electricity from a balloon to turn on a light. Kindergartners showed the audience an experiment using magnets.
Students also helped with creating costumes and props, and ushering and seating audience members before the show Friday.
“They’re just learning about the whole theater experience from a professional actress,” Clark said.
There’s a chance one of the children in the summer program may catch the “acting bug,” she added, and want to pursue that as a career.
Last week, students they participated in other activities during the summer 21st Century program such as physical education, playing board games, doing art projects and visiting the Wendell Public Library.
This week, they’ll go on a field trip to Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and take swimming lessons.
Clark remembers participating in a summer theater program for three years when she was a child. She didn’t end up going into acting, but it helped her build confidence.
She hopes Wendell’s 21st Century program helps children gain similar life skills.
Joanna Jimenez, 11, was nervous to audition for the play. But she was cast as scientist Robert H. Goddard and after a few days of rehearsing, she felt more comfortable.
“I just wanted to try it out,” she said during a rehearsal Wednesday.
Nearby, 7-year-old Jonah McCarty was wearing a gray wig with curly hair in a ponytail. He played the role of Galileo.
To prepare, he learned scientific information such as about the speed of sound and light.
During a rehearsal Wednesday, Snyder told students: “We have to start getting serious, guys.” There were only a couple of days left before the performance.