PLeasant Hills students use modern-day icons to share holiday message

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 8:55 p.m.

Abby Lee Miller of “Dance Moms,” country-music superstar Taylor Swift, characters from the animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants and the romantic vampire saga “Twilight” all learned the importance of having goodwill toward others during the holiday season.

Students at Pleasant Hills Middle School used modern-day icons to share the old lesson taught to Scrooge in Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” who went through a journey of self-awareness after being visited by ghosts on Christmas Eve who revealed to him the importance of being kind to others.

Through skits, the middle school students explored what life would be like for Miller if she always was punishing the students at her dance studio or how Swift's life would end if she only focused on men and not her music.

The performances, held Monday and Tuesday, helped to emphasize the importance of giving to others, eighth-grade reading teacher Susan Luckhardt said.

“Because there's no snow outside, we needed to get some holiday spirit into us, somehow,” said eighth-grader Ryan Michak, 14, who performed in the skit, “Keith: The Life Changer.”

Eighth-graders at Pleasant Hills Middle School, for the third straight year, wrote, directed and performed skits that were a modern take on “A Christmas Carol.”

Students were divided into groups of four to six and were tasked with creating a two- to five-minute skit, using costumes and props.

This year's shows included: “The Christmas Bully,” “Salvation of Walmart” and “Curls Gone Wild.”

The eighth-graders spent three and half weeks preparing for the performances — first reading the high school version of Charles Dickens' tale, creating a modern take on the story, writing a script, memorizing lines and rehearsing, eighth grade language teacher Julie Kolenda said.

From the assignment, students learned public-speaking skills — as they had to perform in front of half of the nearly 240 eighth-graders, Luckhardt said. They also learned the importance of teamwork.

“Some of them didn't realize what it takes to put it all together,” Luckhardt said.

The performances — totaling nearly 25 a day — were graded for class and also judged by teachers who determined the top-scoring groups. Those students received a field trip this Thursday afternoon to go see the Pittsburgh CLO's “A Christmas Carol.”

Students were judged based on costumes, props, length of the skit, memorization, volume, overall performance and if they went the extra mile, Luckhardt said.

Controlling their nerves while performing in front of their peers was the biggest challenge, many of the students said. That, and memorizing their lines.

“It was fun, but at the same time, I was nervous,” said eighth-grader Zach Wagner, 14.

Students said this assignment helped them to become more comfortable on the stage.

“It's not so bad to be in front of so many people to perform,” eighth-grader Jimbo Nassida, 14, said.

And they learned tricks to the trade.

“If you do forget a line — improvise,” Michak said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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