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The Kennedy Center

Kids Create Opera

The Washington National Opera and Kennedy Center Education are proud to support the work of classrooms that write, compose, design, produce, and perform their own original operas. Kids Create Opera is an 8 day intensive followed by a year of monthly support meetings for K-5 classroom teachers wishing to implement authentic, project-based learning. Building on years of successful use and development in area classrooms, this approach to the standard curriculum emphasizes student engagement-which is linked to positive academic and behavioral outcomes-and utilizes key practices for developing SEL skills, addressing the achievement and opportunity gaps, and developing skills necessary for the 21st-century workplace. The program is designed for K-5 classroom teachers or equal partnerships between classroom and arts teachers. However, the professional development seminar is open to all: classroom teachers, special area teachers, SPED and ESOL teachers, principals, staff, volunteers–anyone who may assist in the implementation of the project. No previous background in opera, music, or theater is necessary.The professional development seminar is led by veteran educators Mary Ruth McGinn and Peter Hoyle.

The professional development 8-day intensive for the 2018-2019 school year has passed, but interested educators are invited to learn about the program through various options such as observing classrooms utilizing the curriculum, sitting in on support sessions, and others more. Contact us with questions!

For more information

Please see the webinar Kids Create Opera: An Introduction for Educators

Feel free to contact us via email or by calling (202) 416-8846.


For schools, administrators, and teachers:

Opera might not be what comes to mind when one thinks of the “real world” that students need to be ready to enter, but in actuality, it can serve as a lab that mimics much of the skills, thinking, competencies, and projects that will be asked of students in the workplace and in life:

  • It requires cross-disciplinary thinking and planning: Opera is by nature a multidisciplinary art form, integrating music, theater, poetry, and the visual arts, into a unified whole.
  • It is a multifaceted business: Today, the work of an opera company also involves technology, communication, marketing and press, math, and much more.
  • It lets students not only understand their world, but make an impact on it: Opera subject matters allow for deep study of issues, history, characters, emotions, relationships, and more. A meaningful central message gives the project the weight of exercising student voice and influencing the world around them: past student opera topics have included, “We are bigger than our barriers,” and “Without failure, there is no determination”.
  • It requires collaborative problem solving: Students must work together to bring all of these elements into a unified whole, stretching their imaginative and innovative capacities along with their abilities to problem-solve, communicate, and work collaboratively—skills they will need in life and work. And since the problems affect a real-world product they’ll share with their community, students are invested in finding accurate and inventive solutions.
  • It requires everyone: Since students specialize into job groups, no small cohort of students can lead—all share responsibility for making a strong product and the pride of creating something that affects their community.
The goal of this program is to use the creation of an opera as an authentic vehicle for learning the standard curriculum. The focus is on the learning that happens through the process rather than on a finished artistic product. This approach to the curriculum builds student engagement and motivation, and utilizes factors key to the successful implementation of project-based learning, arts integration, SEL skills, and other valuable areas such as building students’ collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills. Although this is a general classroom project, arts teachers are extraordinarily valuable as partners and co-leads. It is certainly possible to implement the program as a collaboration between a classroom teacher and an arts specialist.

The training should be attended by elementary school classroom teachers considering implementing opera creation curricula the following school year. Whenever possible, teams from the same school should attend together: co-teachers, including special area teachers and/or arts specialists, paraprofessionals, administrators, and parent or community volunteers are encouraged to participate. Attendees must commit to attending the entire training.

Schools serving students from low-income families and English learners are encouraged to consider this program, as it has been successfully implemented in similar schools in the past. However, all schools are welcome.

Space permitting, independent teaching artists, educators not currently associated with a school, or others who fall outside of the above guidelines are welcome to attend. Please contact us with questions or concerns.

Because the opera creation process is dependent on a group of students who feel needed and necessary to the process, one classroom of 20-30 students is the ideal size for an opera company. In larger groups, the process can be diluted, with each student is less likely to feel he or she is making a substantial contribution. Smaller groups will not be able to split into the full number of job groups needed.

The program can be adapted to fit the needs and assets of each school, and creativity and innovation are encouraged. Most likely, the program will look a little different at each location. Some possible implementations include:

  • One classroom teacher, with support from volunteers and coworkers
  • A partnership by a classroom teacher and another teacher (an arts or ESOL teacher, for example)
  • A classroom teacher as a lead with collaborative co-teaching from several others (for example, several faculty or staff serving as working group leaders or providing other forms of support)

Because this program requires enthusiastic buy-in from those involved, a willingness to think innovatively about the curriculum, and flexibility, we encourage this program as one that teachers opt into, rather than one that is assigned. Regardless of how many teachers or staff members are involved, there should be 6-7 dedicated adults who can serve as working group leaders throughout the year. These can be volunteers, school staff, college interns, classroom aides, parents, or teachers—whatever works!

Exact implementation will look a little different in each school, and schools are welcome to determine a plan that works for them and their students. However, this program is meant to be a vehicle for the general curriculum, integrated into all aspects of learning. The seminar will address ways in which standards and additional requirements can be well addressed through the implementation of the opera project. Flexibility in the approaching the curriculum is important, as problems that naturally arise in the opera creation process should be able to be addressed as they come.

One possible implementation is described as follows: the class spends two hours, one day a week, in “opera class,” during which students work specifically on the opera itself. Once initial ideas have been determined (theme, setting, etc.), this time is devoted to job groups.  Additionally, time will be spent throughout the school day on opera work as is appropriate (for example, budget problems incorporated into math lessons).

The program is implemented throughout the full school year.

There is no set budget for producing an opera or implementing the opera program. Schools and educators are encouraged to pool resources from the school and community and to brainstorm with students to find innovative theatrical solutions using available materials and resources. Students are also encouraged to fundraise, which can be tied to the curriculum (marketing campaigns, writing pitches, creating fundraising goals and budgets, etc.). Teachers may also reach out to local businesses and organizations for in-kind donations, and may utilize grantwriting.

We recommend that this program be used in your school and community as a laboratory and model for authentic and/or project-based learning. Lessons learned, ideas, best practices, techniques, etc., can be shared to allow other authentic learning practices to take place in ways that fit your unique school and the people within it. One of the strongest points of the program is its effect on engagement and motivation, which can reach beyond students to parents, volunteers, and community members. The “ripple effect” of implementing the program at the classroom level on a school and community can be tremendous.

The opera creation curriculum is designed to maintain teaching academic subject areas at a high level while significantly addressing student engagement and social and emotional learning (SEL). The program integrates academic learning with social, emotional, behavioral skills and mindsets necessary for success not just in school, but in life in general, including the thriving in the workplace, achieving personal well-being, and establishing healthy relationships. In addition to addressing key SEL goals and competencies, the project actively aims to engage students with diverse needs and interests. Also, by integrating the arts, classrooms have the potential to experience the benefits from arts participation and arts learning.

The goals, skills, practices, and mindsets built by students participating in a robust, year-long opera creation project reflect key components, best practices, and positive outcomes in a number of areas. Please contact us if you would like to receive more information on research related to the Kids Create Opera program.

Schools and teachers that serve these populations are encouraged to participate. This program is adaptable, and the collaborative process provides opportunities for all students to contribute meaningfully. It has been implemented in a variety of situations, including in schools with student populations that are majority low-income and English Language learners.

Kennedy Center Education and the Washington National Opera provide support through the Kids Create Opera partnership by helping to connect students to their professional counterparts, an important way to show how their work mirrors that of the world beyond school. Schools can receive:

  • Classroom visits from WNO staff and artists
  • Tours of the WNO rehearsal studios in Takoma Park, including the costume shop and rehearsal facilities
  • Backstage tours of the Kennedy Center’s Opera House
  • Professional make-up artist demonstrations
  • Passes to WNO dress rehearsals for participating teachers
  • Early registration for the WNO Opera Look-In and age-appropriate student open rehearsals (for classrooms grades 3 and older)
  • Additional support may be worked out on a case-by-case basis, depending on schools’ needs
The WNO and the Kennedy Center wish to support as many classrooms as possible who wish to implement opera creation in the classroom within our current capacity. Schools fully implementing the program will be eligible for consideration to receive the above supports. Once the professional development seminar is completed, participants may submit an implementation plan for their school. Kennedy Center Education will assess the needs of schools and create a plan to provide as much support as our capacity will allow.

For lead teachers:

Program Implementation

A background in music or theater is helpful, but not required. Teachers are encouraged to go through the process of learning, trying new things, facing their fears, and stretching their boundaries alongside students. No teacher has to be an expert at every single aspect of the opera creation process. Teachers should look for collaborators in their schools and communities who can support student work in the areas in which they may be less experienced. We emphasize to teachers and students alike that all voices are worthy of being heard—one can create something meaningful at various levels of proficiency.

Many teachers will implement the program in the school year immediately after taking professional development. While the first year of any new program will be a learning process, all teachers implementing the opera creation curriculum will be invited to attend monthly meetings with one another and a master teacher to network and discuss issues, solutions, and strategies.

Speaking about the program and asking for support are not to be underestimated. People are excited to hear about this work and its benefits for students, and often want to help in some way. This topic will be covered in the training, and teachers involved in this work will be able to reach out to each other for networking and support throughout the year.

There are many ways to find volunteers, and schools can think creatively about what works for their community. It helps to both raise general interest and to ask for specific help. Successful tactics include:

  • Holding parent meetings at the beginning of the year to introduce the program, build general support, and solicit specific help
  • Contacting high school and college music and drama programs and faculty for possibilities
  • Speaking with friends, colleagues, and contacts about possible qualified and interested individuals
  • Hosting interest meetings at the school
  • Writing ads, blogs, and articles, or having students do so, to show the power of the process

Program Logistics

Register! We welcome you to spend an exciting eight days learning about meaningful education. However, we also know that this program works well when adults collaborate throughout the school and community. Think about other teachers, professionals at your school, and volunteers who may also want to be involved in this work. We encourage your school to attend in teams if possible.

Optionally, teachers may choose to take this course for graduate credit from Trinity University. Additional fees and registration processes will apply. When registering, you will be able to indicate your interest in taking the course for credit. The cost is as follows:
  • Non-credit: $0
  • 3 credits: $375
  • 6 credits: $750 (additional course requirements apply)
(Note: Once a credit option is selected, it cannot be changed)

The seminar will take place from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily from August 1-8. Participants must commit to attending the entire seminar.

The professional development seminar will take place at the WNO rehearsal studios in Takoma Park.

Washington National Opera will cover the cost of participation and materials for all attendees.
Participants are responsible for covering their own parking, transportation, meals and, if applicable, the cost of graduate credit.

Yes! All teachers who attend the seminar may attend monthly meetings to learn more and network with one another. These meetings are open to schools regardless of whether or not they participate in the formal Kids Create Opera partnership.
(202) 416-8846