Community

Class clowns encouraged after school

Ten-year-olds Naomi Garcia and Malia Hansen show off their clown makeup, which the children learn to apply themselves. All of the Circus Club students will be made up as clowns for the Holland Happening parade this morning. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Ten-year-olds Naomi Garcia and Malia Hansen show off their clown makeup, which the children learn to apply themselves. All of the Circus Club students will be made up as clowns for the Holland Happening parade this morning.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

Clowning around during class at Hillcrest Elementary usually leads to a stern warning. But after school ends, being a clown isn’t only encouraged by staff, it’s taught.

The Oak Harbor school started the district’s first Circus Club, the creation of physical education and music teacher Sharon Knight.

“It lightens the atmosphere for students and teachers,” said Knight. “Especially for shy kids who don’t have something to fit into, it’s a good spot for them to bring out their personalities.”

When the “circus” starts at 3:30 p.m. each Wednesday, the thoughts of textbooks and playground teasing fades. The children -- with team work and concentration -- focus on polishing their circus acts. At each station, they learn a new skill such as juggling or unicycle riding.

“It gives them a sense of accomplishment and compassion to help others,” said Knight.

Knight says she first came into clowning during college, when San Diego State University offered the first-ever accredited elective in clownology. As a preschool teacher, she began incorporating clowning skills into the school day.

A few years later, Knight was profiled in “Teaching K-8” Magazine for launching a popular “Circus Thrills” club at a middle school in California. It was then that she noticed the confidence and excitement it could bring to kids.

“I’ve had really positive results in schools where I’ve developed the clubs,” Knight said.

Today, the Hillcrest club has about 80 members and a growing waiting list for next year.

At a practice last Wednesday, the students were preparing for their first big show: The Holland Happening Parade today, April 24.

Piper Fisher was teetering on four-inch stilts and took a few tentative steps forward before leaping back to the ground.

“It’s hard,” she said, with frustration.

But within seconds, the nine-year-old was elevated again and triumphantly inching forward.

Ten-year-old Scout Powell said her favorite part of the club was balloon animal-making and the face-painting.

“You can get creative and make things like animals,” she said.

The children will take their show on the road several times this year in local parades and performing at community events. After Holland Happening in Oak Harbor, the students will march in the Memorial Day Parade in Coupeville this May.

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