Paul Green - Teacher
Our initial involvement with Suitcase Circus at Joondalup Primary School was to try to engage boys in our Performing Arts programs. There was very limited involvement and we felt that a physical skills approach could assist. I contacted Joe Bolton who ran two week long intensive circus programs with our year six and seven students and was impressed by the positive effect these programs were having through the inherent supportive environment that Joe’s Circus training provides. His Circus Skills certificates have proven to be highly motivating for our students and provide a structure to the co-operative nature of his program. With a huge involvement from the male student population, alongside the female population, I recognised the potential of the circus program to act as a widely recognisable identity for the school, that all of the children could feel that they were a part of. Further, the program generates a positive message of peer support and positive self-talk so, with the help of Joe, I set out to generate a “Circus Culture” within the school community.
Our first task was to establish a performance troupe that would act as the public face of the Circus program for younger children to look up to. Their first performance was held at the City of Joondalup “Little Feet Festival” followed by an end of year performance at the school’s Arts Night. Rather than being an elite performance troupe, Joe outlined the need for these children to be chosen based on their willingness to help others through demonstration of a supportive approach to circus skills rather than being one of self promotion. This positive approach has allowed the children in the “Circus Leaders” program to participate in performances that conclude with short “have a go” sessions where the performers spend 15 to 20 minutes working with other children to show how to do various skills. This is highly motivating and rewarding for these students and provides a strong base in leadership skills.
Joe’s ongoing support and commitment to the positive social aspects of circus has meant that he always keeps me informed of the good practices being performed away from Joondalup. in doing so he has been able to encourage me to further develop my programs within the school. My “Circus Leaders” now help to run lunchtime circus sessions that are open to the entire school and this encourages participation at all levels from pre-primary, right through to year 7. An outstanding feature of the circus program is the opportunities for many of our children with special needs to participate. Joe includes these children in all aspects of the circus and successfully includes them in final performances for parents and the community.
Joe has also provided me with some outstanding ideas for the inclusion of Circus in the overall curriculum of the school. He successfully incorporates various curriculum ideas relating to maths, science, literacy and history. His fun approach engages the children in positive activities that excite and encourage the teaching staff who are involved and as a result, continue this work in their teaching and learning programs. Joe has also provided us with some fantastic strategies for tackling sensory developmental delays. Joe introduced me to research on the effects of juggling on the development of the brain and many of the skills that we introduce to our children are now selected based on research into a whole range of sensory development strategies that improve learning outcomes for our students. Following a recent performance, a parent of a former student approached me to let me know that her daughter had been involved in the circus program and prior to this had a sensory developmental issue that prevented her from participating in many sporting endeavours. She is now highly involved in sports at a high level heading for the end of high school and the parent is convinced that this is a direct result of her involvement in juggling and unicycling through her Primary School participation in circus.
Joe has a unique approach towards the teaching of circus skills in that he not only expects and encourages good performances, he specifically targets positive language and personal interactions that support personal goal setting and encouragement of peers. He also assists in the construction and ongoing maintenance of our program which is constantly evolving to suit the changing needs of our community. It has been great to have Joe there alongside us, every step of the way and to know that he will be supporting and adapting with educational priorities into the future.