ATLANTIC CITY — The after-school visual and performing arts program at the Pennsylvania Avenue School lasted until almost midnight Thursday as students and, later, staff transformed the cafeteria into a colorful jungle for the program’s first play, “The Jungle Book.”

But there were no signs of fatigue Friday as about 60 energetic students took to the stage to present their first performance.

The program was started this year to give students interested in drama and music a reason to stay after school. It includes homework help and dinner.

“We have to teach the whole child,” said teacher, play director and “visionary” Shalyn Neal, who sat close to the stage to prompt and cheer the actors.

They didn’t need much help. Costumed and made up as jungle animals, the group sang and danced their way through the half-hour story of the little boy Mowgli (Yaasier Benwood, 12), and his life in the jungle.

Neal said she chose “The Jungle Book” because students loved the idea of becoming their favorite animals.

“This supports what they are doing in the classroom,” Neal said. “They had to read the script, memorize lines, learn music and how to work together. They learned discipline, leadership and self-confidence.”

“It’s very fun and we get to entertain people,” said Takala Williams, 11, who played Bagheera the panther with a confident swagger.

“And it’s educational,” added a more serious Mekhi Gee, 12, who played Baloo the bear. “We learn about acting.”

Jamal Waitman, 12, performed in his wheelchair. He doesn’t really like acting, but he does like the singing.

The program is funded with federal Title I grant money and produced by teachers, staff and parents including Marc Spatz, Kayan Frazier, Tamiesha Purnell, Anita McKinley, Andrea Nelson, Nelly Murphy and Rebekah Mahler, who coordinated music, scenery, costumes and makeup.


609 272-7241 Twitter @ACPressDamico