In mid-November, ISC’s Kids Storytelling Institute hosted more than 450 local fifth graders on its Jonesborough campus.
Designed as an educational field trip that also gives children an early introduction to cultural events, Kids Storytelling Institute is an immersive storytelling experience that was launched in 2019 and put on hiatus for the first years of the pandemic. For the 2022 session, which hosted kids and teachers from local elementary schools and a regional homeschool co-op, Tim Lowry designed a special presentation on Thomas Edison.
Lowry’s program, “Ten Thousand Tries,” followed Edison from childhood through his adult life. In addition to hearing stories of Edison’s persistence in spite of failed attempts, kids learned about how electricity is made and teachers left with a toolkit containing lesson plans and other resources to use in the classroom.
“Edison is one of those people who I just absolutely love to introduce people to,” says Lowry. “What fascinates me was his ability to bounce back from anything that was a setback. He had so many major hurdles in his life. He had all kinds of disadvantages that would have stopped a lesser man.” Those disadvantages included scarlet fever and profound hearing loss, among other hardships.
The Kids Storytelling Institute curriculum is built to lock into state academic standards and support students in their learning. But it’s also meant to be a profound encounter with the arts that shapes the way that kids think of the world and their place in it. Professional storytellers are invited to perform in schools all the time, but the format of a field trip to a theater is more unusual.
The format was inspired by ISC president Kiran Singh Sirah’s high school experience of going to the opera. As a boy who had grown up in humble surroundings on a concrete estate, the grandeur of the red carpet and the peacocks sauntering around the facilities sparked his imagination and opened his mind to a new world of possibilities. It was Sirah’s first encounter with the arts, an almost magical experience that has stayed with him for the rest of his life.
For kids participating in the Institute, the hope is that they’ll have a similar experience. For many of the students, Lowry’s show was their introduction to storytelling and their first time visiting a major cultural institution. Fifth graders are at an impressionable age where attending a concert in a theater can spark a lifelong relationship with the performing arts.
The 2022 Institute was generously funded by Mary Brugh, a supporter of ISC’s storytelling-based programs for young people, who believes that storytelling is a powerful educational tool, an effective intervention for at-risk youth, and a lot of fun for kids of every age.