Young Chautauqua Program


Susan Marie Frontczak, national Chautauquan, first introduced Wingate Elementary teachers and students to the Young Chautauqua program. With the support of Colorado Humanities and local donors, up to 200 students per year participate by researching historical characters, preparing individual monologues and performing in costume as their characters, both for school audiences and at Two Rivers Chautauqua (newly named History Alive!), sponsored by the Museums of Western Colorado. Fourth graders choose Colorado history characters, fifth graders have often tackled American history characters, and middle school students have had the opportunity to choose characters from a wide variety of interests including American or world history, well known authors and others of influence. Local schools participating in this fine program include Wingate, Scenic, East MS, and Caprock Academy, with Orchard Mesa Middle School joining this coming year. A few students have committed to performing every year and are now well into their high school studies.

Here are some quotes from the Young Chautauquans themselves.

“As I did my research, I thought I was learning about my character, but later I realized I also learned a lot about myself.”

“It’s fun to learn the history, to write the scripts and then to play with the quirks of the character and to figure it all out in a way that makes sense…It’s hard to describe the feeling you get on stage, but you feel powerful up there speaking to everyone.”

“I like Anne Frank because she’s my age so I can understand where she’s coming from…She represents more than just herself and a diary. She represents all the children who don’t get to have their own childhood.”

“It’s a fun experience. For people who don’t speak well and loud, it’s good, because it teaches you how to stand up for yourself and not always hide your speaking.”

“My dad and I found out we have something new to talk about – he loves history and now so do I.”

“My mom said she never liked history, but after helping me with my research for Emily Griffith, she wants to read more biographies.”

Susan Marie Frontczak, storyteller and adult Chautauquan with Colorado Humanities, performed at past Two Rivers Chautauqua events as Madame Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary Shelley, and Irene Castle. John Stansfield, performing as Dr. Charles Fox Gardiner, Enos Mills, John Denver, and Charles Fox Gardiner also coaches young people. Part of their work as Chautauqua coaches is the support and teaching of students in research, writing and performance techniques.

The in school programs require students to spend their literacy time for five to six weeks in research, writing and performance preparations. With parents’ help, and the support of local businesses, they work with classroom teachers and Young Chautauquans to prepare for performance day when they present their characters to their classes and families. The climax of performance week is the “People’s Choice” assembly that features two characters from each classroom chosen by their peers as outstanding presenters. A summer class is also offered for those students whose schools do not host the Young Chautauqua program.

“Young Chautauqua,” says Susan Hall, who coordinates the Young Chautauqua program for the museum, “gives young people a chance to integrate literacy and social studies – writing, drama, history, interpretation and research. When students have a chance to experience history in a personal way, connections are made about social, political, economic and cultural events and attitudes that influence our present day communities. History truly ‘comes alive’ for students and their audiences. Students and audiences are challenged to consider current events and attitudes in light of what we have learned or not learned from history. This format is ideal for opening and supporting discussions about the difficult issues each generation must tackle and hope to solve.”

History Alive! salutes local teachers who seek to inspire young people through our rich culture of arts and humanities. If you would like more information about the Young Chautauqua program or if you know a young person who would like to participate in History Alive!, please email Mrs. Hall by clicking here or contact the Museums of Western Colorado or Colorado Humanities.