S2S Project Team: Three Rivers/Illinois Valley
RiverStars Performing Arts

Imagine that it is the year 2020. What will arts education look like in your community? What’s the story you want to tell about your project’s impact?

This is the year that many of the students that began in our program 6 years ago will graduate.  This special group of seniors stuck with the program when times were busy or hard.  One student, Thalia, has just stepped up to the microphone at the school board meeting.  With clarity and ease, she begins to advocate for more arts based programs and projects in Three Rivers Schools.  She uses personal stories to show how important the arts were to her success.  When it was time for questions, a man with a frown says “I don’t believe that Arts Education is necessary or helpful.  Our budget is already tight!”  Staying calm, she cites research about better grades, attendance and graduation rates to solidify her request.  Her experience of performing on stage shows.

Another student, Michael, is rehearsing a spoken word piece they wrote themselves. It is a piece advocating equal rights for ALL that will be used in their senior project. Michael, who we met as Maizi, is a fierce activist for equality and a mentor for other kids questioning gender and sexuality, but it wasn’t always this way.  Michael had a rough time communicating with parents and teachers.  Michael’s chosen pronoun, “they” is a challenge to explain.  Michael hopes that  their senior project will help bring gracious equanimity to this community.

A third senior, Na’amah, truly inspires as a student assistant. The EverStars look up to her, not only for her ability, but for her kindness. Na’amah was not schooled traditionally and felt stress when it came to writing things down in her journal.  She experimented with different ways to bring her brilliant ideas to paper and began meeting with a tutor to fine tune her writing skills.  She will be leaving in a month to intern at Missoula Children’s Theater.

A week later this group of seniors perform their final main stage show with RiverStars to a packed house.  They performed as professionals in lead roles in a show they devised themselves. This performance included a gala to raise funds for a state of the art performing arts center.

RiverStars dance and theatre classes and performances continue to draw the maximum amount of students year after year.  Students from all races and backgrounds participate together.  Because of the popularity of the program, the school district finds long term funding to contribute and each year, individual donations grow.

The audiences that come to see shows used to only hail from the Valley. Now, audience members are driving an hour or more to see the quirky, touching, and inspiring shows. The Illinois Valley is becoming known as an arts destination and a festival is planned for the summer.