VALHALLA, N.Y. – It’s not every day that a school principal is surprised when a high school student speaks out. That was the case at Mount Pleasant Blythedale as Principal Emily Hersh observed her high school students perform their rendition of “Romeo & Juliet.”
“Some of these students, they rarely ever speak out and for them to do this is a huge step,” Hersh said.
For the past four years, Blythedale uses performances of Shakespeare’s plays each spring to educate students both socially and intellectually. The students write their own rendition of select scenes from the play and act them out to their classmates. This week, the students performed a unique adaptation of “Romeo & Juliet.”
Superintendent Ellen Bergman said the performance goes far beyond entertainment purposes.
“This is absolutely an educational opportunity,” Bergman said. “The students are given the opportunity to not only learn about the play and the story but to also get up in front of a group of people and express themselves socially.”
Teacher Jodi Feldman works with the students to write the script and dialogue. The school also brings in a member of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival through ArtsWestchester to work with the students on the acting aspects of the play. Feldman was pleasantly surprised with the progress some of the students made over the time working on the play.
“Some of the students are shy but then others aren’t at all,” Feldman said. “In fact, one of our students got up there and started improvising his lines and it worked out great.”
The students chose to create a puppet version of “Romeo & Juliet” in which the characters in the play are animals living in the Bronx Zoo. They titled the two families the Catulets and the Mouseagues, an animal play on words for their Shakespeare counterparts. Mark Charles, who played the role of Romeo, said the students wanted to write an adaptation to keep their classmates interested.
“We didn’t want to do a regular ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ we wanted to do something that the kids would enjoy and not be so bored with,” Charles said.
The Mount Pleasant-Blythedale School is a school for children and adolescents with special needs. The children receive a temporary education while receiving treatment at the children's hospital, the school said. The school brings in students from not only all over Westchester, but also Rockland County and New York City. It is the only school in the state of New York designed to educate a hospital population.