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The Circus Comes to School

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Most students at New York City's Harbor Junior High School for the Performing Arts keep themselves busy practicing at orchestra rehearsals or painting still lifes. Others just spend their time clowning around.

And that's perfectly fine with their teachers, because these students participate in the Circus Arts in Education program. Thanks to the program--funded by the Big Apple Circus, a renowned traveling show--students from this East Harlem neighborhood are learning about practice, patience, and the benefits of perseverance.

Circus arts were introduced into the school in 1985. From the start, the program has been extremely popular, enrolling more than 40 7th through 9th graders each year, school officials say. Classes, taught daily by professional trainers and circus performers, include juggling, clowning, and tumbling. An optional after-school program allows students from other area schools to join the Harbor students in the more active skills such as trapeze, stilt-walking, and acrobatics.

Frank Sellitto, the head instructor for the Circus Arts program, says the students enjoy the classes because they are exciting and action-oriented, although he finds other benefits in the program as well.

"After being in the program for a while, they realize they can accomplish something; they can carry that into academics," Mr. Sellitto says.

What the students learn goes into a circus performance that doubles as their final project. The student troupe recently staged its show, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Circus World," in the school gymnasium. Later this spring, they will present their circus during the International Children's Festival at Wolf Trap Farm Park, a national park for the performing arts in Virginia.

--skg

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