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Opera: A Life-Long Learning Experience — Hinckley Elementary Students Create an Original Opera
Lisa Kramer Reichel, Opera Cleveland
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Opera Cleveland isn't the only opera in town! Travel south on I-71 a little way, hang a left on Route 303 and you'll come upon Hinckley Elementary School. You may be scratching your head at this point, but yes, as music teacher Michael McClintock stated, "We are no longer Hinckley Elementary, we're The Scientific Opera Company of Hinckley."

Last spring the education department received a call from Mr. McClintock. He said that he had heard about our Music!Words!Opera! program and would like to create an opera with his whole school. We said, "Your whole school?!" "Yes," he said. For the past 16 years, schools have participated in this program with Opera Cleveland on Tour — each group usually consists of one or two classrooms, three tops — so an inquiry to create an opera with a whole school left us speechless, at first. We soon realized that Mr. McClintock and Principal Stacie Rastok were serious and a plan was set in motion. The students began learning about opera at the start of the school year. They decided that they wanted their original opera to be about the Scientific Method. Each class wrote about a specific step of the Scientific Method. Their stories were turned into song with the help of an Opera Cleveland on Tour music mentor, Eileen Moore. Many months of work resulted in a special opera created, written, and produced by the students at Hinckley Elementary School called The Mystery of the Secret Message.

The opera begins with three students coming home from school on a Friday. They are very upset because they have a science project due on Monday and have left all of the work until the last minute, and they don't know where to start. Kindergarteners tell the students to use their senses to observe their surroundings. Through observation, the science students discover a piece of paper with a secret message which they try to decode. They rely on students in the other grades to help solve the mystery of the message; each grade discusses a particular step of the scientific process (observe, question, form a hypothesis, plan an experiment, do the experiment, come to a conclusion). As the opera concludes, the science students successfully uncover the secret message with the help of the students from the school and the science choir. They enjoy the rest of their weekend knowing that their science project is done.

The Mystery of the Secret Message premiered on February 20, 2007. Parents, grandparents, siblings, and family friends filled the theater of Highland High School to see this grand event. It was truly a memorable experience for everyone involved. The cooperation and enthusiasm of the entire staff and students made this endeavor so successful. Many students were heard to say that they now think opera is cool! And most importantly, it was a unique learning experience — a life-long learning experience — as the students sing in their finale:

"Super job! Pat yourself on the back! Your experiment was really on track. You used your eyes. You used your ears. You kept on thinking. You found where all your answers were lying. Wow! You had a stupendous question. And you made an educated guess. You planned and you used your tools. You did it! Did it! Did it! You learned something new. You came to a, came to a, came to a, came to a CONCLUSION! Continue to experiment. Now the fun really begins. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Now life-long learning begins. Now life-long learning begins!"

"Working with Opera Cleveland on this project allowed our school to realize a vision of a school-wide musical presentation. Not only was the final opera performance a success, but the learning experiences provided for our children were tremendous. Being able to integrate science, language arts, and music made for an authentic learning experience for our students."

— Stacie Rastok, Hinckley Elementary Principal

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