Several years ago, I went with a friend, who was visiting from overseas, to see a musical at Freedom High School. It was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (2011). My oldest son had a role in it, and we wanted to see this play he had been talking so much about. The production was amazing, with beautiful vocals, dancing, sets, and music. My foreign friend was astounded at the sophistication of the whole thing. “I can’t believe they are just high school students!” she kept saying to me. I was awed by the performance as well. I had seen other musicals at Freedom, and they were all so advanced and polished, in the way that Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was. And now this year, my family got to see Liberty High School’s Beauty and the Beast and Freedom’s Anything Goes, in which another of my sons had a role. Both musicals were works of art.
It would be easy to think of high school musicals as mere frosting on the cake—pretty sideshows to the real business of education. I am not so sure about that. Obviously, teaching traditional academics is essential to public education at all levels. But the skills that students learn in putting on such elaborate musical programs are invaluable, too. On a concrete level, participating students get experience in musical production and theater, and crew members gain important technical skills. Perhaps the greatest benefits are less tangible: high school musicals teach cooperation, organization, professionalism, reliability, and dedication to a goal that goes beyond individual fulfillment. I worked one night backstage during a performance of Anything Goes, and I was repeatedly impressed by the support students gave each other and the performers’ carefulness in preparing for each scene and musical number. Each individual worked with others to put on an impressive and classy show.
This type of skill-building—collaborative work to create something complex and appealing—can be found in many programs offered in the Bethlehem schools, including in instrumental and vocal music programs, sports teams, arts clubs, and more. These “extracurriculars” are much more than places where students have fun. They are environments in which students learn essential skills that will serve them well in their future professional and private lives.