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April 7, 2010

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Teaching English on a stage

ENCOURAGING children to speak their second language under the glare of the spotlight might not at first seem conducive to learning, but it is part of an innovative theater-based education program.

The English-language classes are run through the Shanghai Theater Academy in cooperation with the ErTong HeZuoYuan, or Children's Cooperation Center, and they are designed to not only improve language ability but also develop life skills.

"We use original English scripts to teach the children the art of theater, to improve their English appreciation and to strengthen their confidence and ability to work as a team," says Jiang Fanghua, founder of HeZouYuan.

Jiang launched the theater program last autumn and the 14-week course is taught with the help of Shanghai theater veteran and academy teacher Thomas Caron.

The American actor and theater director played the lead role in a recent local production of "King Lear" and also directed "A Christmas Carol" last year.

The students aged between eight and 14 can choose either or both of a public speaking or a drama section of the course.

This intake of 19 students staged a special Easter performance of the "The Little Prince" last Sunday at Shanghai Times Square.

Jiang says the improvement in the student's English is marked.

All the students are local children and they start the course with varying English-speaking skills, she says.

"Some can barely speak any English, but by the end of the course they are able to perform on stage and be part of a team of students that puts on an entire play," Jiang says.

The 37 students in the current course, which started on March 6 and runs until June 14, are working on "The Patchwork Girl of Oz."

The Children's Cooperation Center is a non-profit group that runs a range of bilingual Chinese and English education programs such as winter and summer camps as well as after-school programs.

Jiang says the center aims to teach improved life skills and character building, which she describes as the "5Cs" of confidence, communication, cooperation, compassion and creativity.

The weeklong school camps run all-day activities including art, science and sports activities that complement academic studies.

All money raised from courses goes back into providing for future programs, says Jiang.

Jiang was born and raised in Shanghai but emigrated to the United States in the late 1980s. She was involved in finance, working for JP Morgan before returning to Shanghai with her family in 2008.

During her time in the US, she co-founded the Overseas Foundation of the High School affiliated to Fudan University, which provides financial support to students at the high school.

The children's center works with both the high school and its elementary school to provide after-school and camp programs.

The drama and public-speaking classes are held in a performance space on Wanhangdu Road.

Public-speaking classes run from midday to 2pm on Saturdays and drama classes run from 9am to midday and from 3pm to 6pm on Sundays.

Classes are also held at the Primary School affiliated to Fudan University on Zhengxiu Road and drama classes run from 9am to midday and public speaking from 3pm to 5pm on Saturdays.

For more information, visit or call Jiang Fanghua at 1582-1944-774.


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