School as they know it

Sigourney juniors and seniors rehearse during a morning practice in the school library. 

            As 8:40 a.m. swiftly approached on a warm, cloudy Saturday in January, nervous energy filled the band room of Ottumwa High School. Large Group Districts was being held at the high school, attended by numerous southeast Iowa schools including English Valleys, Albia, Centerville, Tri-County, Pekin, Keota and Davis County. The previous performers and their families exited the performance area, leaving room for the next audience to file in the empty seats. Some parents had already been waiting anxiously for their children to perform next. Faces from every corner of Keokuk County could be seen eagerly awaiting the Sigourney Choral Reading group. Everyone seemed to know what was coming, yet that didn’t stop the anticipation from building.

            The announcer kicked things off right on time, presenting the next Choral Reading. Cell phones were silenced and all eyes were directed to 15 students up on a set of raised blocks, turning to face their audience once ready.

            “School as We Know It,” the students announced in unison, and the performance began.

            In what has been described as their “best performance to date”, the group took their audience and judge through an oral journey of high school, starting on the first day back to school. Volleyball and football practices are in full swing. No one seems to care about cross-country other than the runners themselves. A little chemistry is cooking up between two students, ironically in chemistry. Only nerves keep these two lovebirds from asking each other out to Homecoming. Before you know it, winter sports are in gear to the chagrin of those who hates sports. Along the way, every facet about school imaginable is turned into humor, and the audience can’t help but laugh at jabs at cheerleaders making “lame” homecoming themes, or how being on time for band practice in all reality is being late. Then the holidays come around, and the sad truths behind some students is shown. Some cannot afford lunch unless it’s at school, while others aren’t able to take part in activities because they need to work to support their families. Jokes and truths intermix with each other throughout the reading, engaging the audience glued to their seats.

            Suddenly, the students switch gears. A sense of worry arrives on set as there’s an announcement for all teachers to report to the office. One performer comments something like this never happens. Everyone knows something is wrong. All high school students are then called to the gym, where they are seated and told that two fellow students were involved in a crash. One is at the hospital in critical condition, while the other has died. Emotions rise rapidly, both in the unfolding scene and in the audience. The group transitions to briefly sing “See You Again” as tears roll across the cheeks of several spectators. Everyone knew this particular scene came to be written in honor of the tragedy that befell the Jarmes Family in March of last year.

            All of what was has been described was written by the Sigourney students leading up to Districts on January 20. For several weeks, the Choral Reading group bounced ideas off a Google Doc to create a performance that literally reflect as they knew it and saw it.

            “Because of everything that happened last year, we wanted to honor that situation and spin it into a way that shows our audience how we experienced everything,” Sydney Striegel, senior at Sigourney High said. “We started writing the script before we did anything else, then we made edits if we needed to as went along.”

Please view the January 31 edition of The News-Review for the full story.