The power of a revived theater program includes all students at a middle school previously found to be underserved in arts instruction and resources.

Soft SkillsAt Sepulveda Middle School, excitement was in the air as students prepared to go onstage for their production of Mulan Jr., a story of a girl who dresses like a boy and takes her father’s place in the Chinese army.

“They’re nervous. I’m nervous!” said teacher Deborah Raphael. Half of the cast had never performed on stage before. Most students came from Raphael’s theater classes. 5 others are Christine Offutt’s special education students.

Raphael welcomed the inclusion of Offnutt’s students. For them this will be life-changing,” she said. “No matter what happens tonight, they will have gone through this experience. They will feel a sense of accomplishment.”

This is the first time in ten years that Sepulveda students have been involved in a major theater production. The school is known as a “tough” school where students have problems related to gangs and incarcerated parents. The arts have not been a priority until now, even though the school is in the backyard of California’ s  film industry.

“They don’t see themselves as being the people that are going to run … Hollywood. The producers, the editors, the grips, the actors. I keep telling them, ‘It’s going to be you,’” said Raphael.

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