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Published 11:00 am Thursday, October 16, 2008

BURLINGTON — It may not have been a Broadway musical, but it was the performance of a lifetime for the kindergarten classes at Burlington Elementary.

Tuesday afternoon, The 47 youngsters presented their interpretation of the book “Joseph had a Little Overcoat,” a Yiddish folktale about a man who started out with a overcoat, then had it wither away to merely a button. When the button was gone, he decided to turn his experience into a book. The moral of the story is “You can always make something out of nothing.”

All of the school’s students shuffled into the gym at the end of the day to get a peek at the performance. Many of the kindergartners were natural performers, going on stage in their costumes eager to perform. Some were a little more reluctant, needing to be softly being prodded on stage.

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Kindergarten teacher Kelli Helton said the play was a unique experience for the youngsters. Usually, she said, the students at the school do not perform on stage until they are in fifth grade.

“This really gives them a chance to build their confidence,” Helton said. “For those with low self-esteem, it can really feel good to get up on stage and perform. They can feel good about what they’ve accomplished.”

Helton, as well as the school’s two other kindergarten teachers, Lela Petrie and Stephanie Hill, were the directors of the show, so to speak. Music teacher Brenda Martin also lent a hand to the project.

“The kids were very excited to be on stage,” Petrie said. “It lets them see the connection between the arts and literature.”

She said the play also let the children’s true personalities shine through.

Hill said the play was funded by a grant from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation.

The foundation awarded $2,500 to the kindergarten class based on the grant the teachers wrote entitled “The Arts: Opening Doors Across the Curriculum.”

With the money, the teachers also bought six books for each student to take home with them, each coordinating with activities that the class would participate in. The kindergartners also got art supplies and field trips with the grant.