David P. Groth
Sorensen Elementary School Teacher in Coeur d'Alene
In his fifth-grade classroom at Coeur d'Alene's Sorensen Elementary, David has watched some of his students struggle to keep up academically with their classmates. He's witnessed those same students amaze friends with their quick mastery of juggling.
"Any alternative activity picks up another group of kids," David says. "Not successful in school? Try juggling." David's not preparing kids with learning problems for careers as street-corner entertainers. He's offering them a chance to excel, which often leads to better academic performance. Success with a tough group was rewarding enough to transform David's enjoyment of juggling into passion. He became Coeur d'Alene's Pied Piper of flying beanbags. Now they want to take the next step. "We want to make it accessible to everyone," David says. "We want to showcase world-class talent. That costs." The Coeur d'Alene kids get formal lessons, books, videos and personal interaction (at juggling events) with some of the best jugglers of our time.
David wanted all his students to enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishment, so he introduced juggling as a break from studies in 1997. His students encouraged each other and performed for the school. In 1999, he started Monday night juggling gatherings in Sorensen's gym for anyone interested. Typically, 75 kids and adults showed up to practice with beanbags, clubs, rings and more. The start of a school juggling team was next. David wanted to offer a higher level performance group for kids interested in juggling out of the school setting. Fourteen kids signed up. The team flew to Philadelphia for an international juggling event, then to Reno, Nev., for another. The kids raised money from yard work, drawings and performing. Each performance earns about $150. Seventy percent of the money goes to the kids for travel expenses. The rest goes into a group juggling fund.
"The community has embraced juggling," he says. "I'm thrilled with the level of our youth group. They care for each other. They're feeling success. People are willing to pay us. It's a wonderful experience. I use juggling every day in my 5th grade classroom, as study breaks. 5-7 minutes. Brings back energy to the classroom-- and the teacher. We have family Juggling every Monday night, 6:30-8:00 p.m. During the school year, we meet at school. In the summer at the park by the lake. 50-70 people attend during the school year, about 1/3 adults/1/3 kids. Lessons and equipment provided. Tuesday mornings from 8:00-8:45 we have juggling before school.
My students give juggling performances -- just a few each year, mainly for the school, but we always do a nursing home performance and go to one other school in the district. Why do I do this? None of it is quantifiable, but the main reasons I incorporate juggling in my classroom is that it builds a sense of community as we all share learning this physical, unusual skill in schools. Also, there is no doubt it builds confidence, which increases every time a child learns something that is perceived to be difficult, which is the case with juggling.
Teaching my students to juggle gives me a connection with them. They see me as fun. They see me learning. I have something they want."