Photo by Aubree Hefner-Drumm

For the last six weeks the students at Hollywood School in Brookfield have been learning circus skills. On May 20, they put on a demonstration of what they have learned in a performance in the school gym that lasted about 45 minutes.

Each grade got a chance to strut their stuff and show what they learned, with students tumbling and juggling while a few of the older kids walked a tight wire that was perhaps three feet off the floor of the Hollywood gym stage.

The training came courtesy of the Hollywood School PTA, which paid for instructors from Circesteem, a Chicago-based organization that uses circus skill training as a way to boost self-esteem in children, to come to Hollywood once a week in April and May to do an hour of training each Friday with every grade level as part of the PTA’s Artist in Residence program that it funds every three years. 

Students juggle on the stage at Hollywood School in Brookfield on May 20 during the capstone performance of an all-school circus-skill training program taught by Circesteem, a Chicago-based organization that uses circus skill training as a way to boost self-esteem in children. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

Learning circus skills not only builds self-esteem, it develops persistence and grit, skills that are sometimes in short supply these days, said Hollywood School Principal Kim Hefner.

“We noticed at the beginning of the year, coming back from the pandemic, that children struggled with persisting through challenges and trying new things,” said Hefner, whose own 15-year old-daughter rides a unicycle and is interested in circus skills. 

“Making mistakes and failure was hard for them,” she said. “We wanted to put them in a situation where they needed to try new things and they would build the skills and practice. Through perseverance they would be able to grow their talents and find success.”

McKenna Daut was one of three Circesteem coaches who came to Hollywood each Friday to work with the students. Daut loves to work with elementary school children.

“It’s wonderful,” Daut said. “It’s my favorite age because it is the best creative age. They have the most capacity to see something and create a new way to engage with it which is kind of all that circus is.”

Whether it’s tumbling, juggling, balancing, tight-wire walking or clowning, the circus has a place for everyone. 

“We encourage self-esteem through introducing a multitude of circus equipment,” Daut said. “We find that there is always something for everybody, so we have a motto: try everything. We like to encourage kids to try things that they think would be impossible.”

The youngest kids are taught simpler aspects of the skills.

“Every grade got the same skills,” Daut said. “Obviously, kindergarten wasn’t learning three-ball juggling, but we are able to differentiate and scaffold for the age level.”

Hefner liked how the kids cheered each other on. That spirit of encouragement and collaboration is something that she tries to foster at Hollywood School.

“One of things that I believe, and I think we believe at Hollywood, is that life is hard enough, and instead of creating a culture of competition we want to create a culture of support and collaboration,” Hefner said. “It’s just been amazing to see them cheer for each other as they try these new things. It’s transferred out to the playground with our younger kids cheering for each other on the monkey bars.”

Hefner thanked the PTA for funding the program.

“This would not have happened without parent support,” Hefner said.

Daut said she enjoyed working with Hollywood students.

“It’s really beautiful to have a school that is so determined to provide quality programming and education and space for their students,” Daut said.