Reflections By LeeAnn Thompson, NAHS Art Teacher

In 1975, I was seven years old, our classes were sent home with cards that we filled with coins and brought back to school.  I learned later in life that our 51 cents was really paying for animal testing…..

On December 4, 2013 I posted the following on Facebook:

“Remember when we used to “send a mouse to college”…that was kind of sick. I wonder how many friends would be interested in sending an art student to see a Broadway musical? I am taking a group in February to Memphis to see “Wicked”, we will also eat dinner downtown and visit the Stax Museum of Rhythm and Soul. It is going to cost each child $75 and I have a few that I really want to get to go but certainly can’t afford it. I promise they won’t be used for testing purposes. Inbox me if you want to “send a kid to get their groove on”.

Within minutes, people were jumping in like crazy. In four hours at least 15 people had already signed up, one week later I had already received a dozen checks in the mail, from California to Kentucky and all over Mississippi. Friends, family, former students, fellow teachers, retired teachers, children of teachers, wealthy and fledgling…young and old, all supporters of children and supporters of the arts.

When I mail the check to the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, TN tomorrow morning there will be almost 70 students, teachers and parents signed up to experience a day of art, culture, city, theater and music. Of the 70, 25 students received a “full scholarship”, they are students who wanted to attend but were not able to afford the cost of the trip.

We will tour the Stax Museum of Rhythm and Soul, where Otis Redding recorded his amazing music. We will have dinner at the world famous Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous, hopefully get to walk through the lobby of the Peabody Hotel to visit the ducks and finally, to experience “Wicked”, the Broadway musical.

This “mostly annual” field trip started about ten years ago when Vickie Harmon and I teamed up to take her chorus students and my art students to get a taste of the arts. Two years in a row, we took groups to New York City where we saw “Phantom of the Opera” and “Beauty and the Beast”. After 9/11 we started experiencing culture a little closer to home. The first year we “did” Memphis, we had around 40 students waiting outside the Orpheum in the freezing cold when we discovered that I had ordered tickets for the wrong night, the night BEFORE. Luckily, the kind folks at the Orpheum let us in anyway, and our seats were so cheap and so high up that even though we were there on the wrong night, there was no one sitting there anyway !

Over the years we have taken students to visit Graceland, Stax, Brooks Art Museum, the Memphis College of Art, and the Civil Rights Museum. We have seen Jersey Boys, Wicked, Mama Mia, Shrek, The Drowsy Chaperone, Les Miserables, maybe more. Though the Rendezvous is a crowd favorite, we have also dined at Blues City Cafe, BB Kings on Beale Street and the Spaghetti Warehouse. Many times we have seen the ducks do their walk through the lobby of the Peabody, gone to the roof there to visit the Duck Palace, we have danced and lip synched at dinner, we have filled the Riverside Loop trolley, sung spirituals in the lobby of the Civil Rights Museum, been entertained and awed by the “Beale Street Flippers” and waited at the back door of the Orpheum to meet the actors after the show. Whatever happens, we always try to charm and befriend the wonderful usher volunteers of the Orpheum, who are always a little surprised to see 40 plus teenagers filling the balcony to see the shows.

It is heartwarming to know that we live in a community and world with so many people who eagerly and generously give to allow students the opportunities that await them. Over the past few weeks,  I have shared with my students this news, and they are so appreciative, touched and wowed that this is happening. There are many lessons to be learned here…there are plenty of people who want to see our children succeed . There are lots of people who want children to have arts experiences. Most people who have had these experiences, know their value and realize the impact they can have on our children. Field trips are very important, and rarer than ever. And finally, they want to help, but just need to be asked.

In a couple of months, Mary Beth Muncie and I will load up a couple of buses and head to Memphis. I hope to bring back about 60 new “Otis” fans, 60 teenagers who will know every word to “Defying Gravity” and 60 students have a new appreciation for the makeup artists who turn Elphaba into a totally green person night after night. Thank you notes are definitely on our “to-do” list on February 6.