Bill Edwards Foundation hosts children’s festival • St Pete Catalyst


Hundreds of local students will receive hands-on education in art, music and literacy on Wednesday at the outdoor plaza of the Mahaffey Theatre. And have fun too.

Now in his 12e year, the educational performance series for young people Mahaffey’s Class Acts presents its latest BAM! (book, art and music) Fest, for participating school children. With support from the Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts (BEFA), 400 students from six regional counties will participate in multiple activity stations and engage in social-emotional learning.

Activities include an interactive drumming circle, art demonstrations, book giveaways and theater games. Amy Miller, president of the foundation, said the age of students tended to be younger, with the oldest children being in third and fourth grade. For many, the festival will be their first experience with the arts.

“It’s a really special day,” Miller said, “and I think anything you can do to kick kids out of the traditionally structured classroom environment to make learning more fun is really beneficial.”

Give music to the tree lead students through the interactive drum circle to encourage collaboration and listening. Miller noted that the activity is one of the most popular and said organizers had to create waiting lists in previous years.

Many children, she added, have never played an instrument before participating in the BAM Drumming Circle! Party. She said that a student goes to the center to lead others and that performing in front of people builds confidence. She also expressed amazement at how quickly they picked up and kept up the pace.

“They’re so small, and you think they’d be really scared or shy to stand up in front of everyone,” Miller said. “But they do, and it’s great. I remember the first time I saw it, I almost cried.

Miller said the foundation buys pallets of books and one of the foundation’s sponsors provides 23 volunteers to help organize and distribute them for a free book fair. The Warehouse Arts District Association (AMA) will help students discover warm and cool colors and tessellations by creating paper mosaic bookmarks.

Wednesday’s outdoor festival is a spinoff of the Class Acts Performance Series, which has been bringing Bay Area students to the Mahaffey — for educational theater performances — for 29 years. The Foundation took over from the city of St. Petersburg when Edwards took over the management of the theater 12 years ago.

The Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts has overseen the Class Acts series of educational performances at the Mahaffey Theater for 12 years.

The Class Acts Performance series, Miller said, is like a baby to Edwards. She passed on her love for children’s programming and taught music and the arts to local children.

“He definitely didn’t want it to go away,” she said. “He really wanted to make sure it continued.”

Each Class Acts program correlates with Florida curriculum standards, Miller said, and includes components of math, science, language arts and history. It also promotes social-emotional learning and global culture education.

Miller said the events provide a unique learning experience where students can create and use their imaginations. She also noted that children forge new friendships and lasting memories while building self-esteem.

Additionally, Miller said the program enriches children’s lives by introducing them to the arts and non-traditional career fields.

“There’s just an enormous amount of arts-related careers out there,” she said. “I think if kids can be inspired by it, it opens up a whole new world of opportunity for them.”

For more information on the Class Acts educational performance series, visit the website here.

For more information on the Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts, visit the website here.

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