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Friday: Play tackles issue of cyber bullying

By Maria Surricchio

Special to the Almanac

The Corte Madera school community enjoys a long-running tradition this week with the 12th Frederick's Follies production. The event, free to students, their families and the community at large, takes place this Friday, May 9, at 6:30 p.m. at Corte Madera School.

Every Follies production is characterized by high production values and originality. This musical performance is the result of close collaboration among students, parents and the community at large (lights, sound and decor are all choreographed by local community talent and volunteers). William Frederick, the fifth-grade teacher behind the initiative, has a passion for innovation and ensures the productions feel fresh every year.

This year's show, "Roar," promises to break the mold yet again and make for a very thought-provoking and entertaining evening. The backbone of all Follies productions is the students' impersonated rock band performances. Structured around these is a three-act play written by William Frederick, parent Renee Lewis and fifth-grade students that tackles the difficult topic of bullying.

"Roar" takes place in a small California town that could be anywhere and represents, by implication, a universal experience. Royal, the main protagonist, is the victim of a vicious cyber bully. Through her interactions with a quirky counselor and family members she builds qualities and acquires tools that enable her to cope with the school aggressor.

Describing the creative challenge of writing a coherent story that melds the rock music performances students spend months perfecting with narrative that deals with difficult subject matter, parent and co-writer Renee Lewis said: "It was difficult to make it cohesive -- the bands and music are so disparate -- but once we found the thread, the story just seemed to take care of itself."

There is an equally seamless quality to the show's message of developing resilience in the face of adversity and the skills students learn while working on the production itself.

Solving interpersonal problems and working as part of a team are critical components of the learning experience. Katie Sutherland, mother of a fifth-grade student performing in "Roar," notes: "This experience has taught the kids to listen to each other, to step up and be leaders, to match skill set to ability within the group and so much more. It is a truly unique and out-of-the-box learning experience for a public school."

And in the words of fifth-grader Naomi Asakura: "We learn to work together as a team. We learn to be responsible to each other, flexible when we have disagreements, and do our best by working hard. In the end, all our hard work shows, and it's so much fun."

Frederick's Follies is the culmination of the teaching philosophy more broadly evident in William Frederick's class that celebrates the performing arts and emphasizes character and life skills. As fifth-grade parent Patti Sellman reflects: "Mr. Frederick's vision of creating opportunities to give his students '15 minutes of fame' is a fantastic way to get them outside of their comfort zones, learn team work and have fun. This class has provided my son with an amazing opportunity to grow as an individual by developing skills that will serve him into adulthood."

"Feeling empowered in front of an audience" is the gift William Frederick has been bestowing on his students for the last 12 years with the conviction that the lessons endure, helping alumni of his class through middle school, high school, college and beyond.

Watching students celebrate this through performances in which they are so invested is why Frederick's Follies has become such a well-loved and eagerly awaited annual event, bringing together not only the students and families of Corte Madera School but also the broader community.

Frederick's Follies will be staged in the multi-use room at the school, located at 4575 Alpine Road in Portola Valley.

Maria Surricchio is the mother of two children who attend Corte Madera School.

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