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Reaching for success at BHS

Left to right, Bremerton High School seniors Julia Elia, Bianca Belton and Justin Burns get ready for “Tosca” at McCaw Hall. - Photo by Wesley Remmer
Left to right, Bremerton High School seniors Julia Elia, Bianca Belton and Justin Burns get ready for “Tosca” at McCaw Hall.
— image credit: Photo by Wesley Remmer

By WESLEY REMMER

Staff writer

Bremerton High School’s Reaching Educational Achievement to Complete High School (R.E.A.C.H.) hosted a student field trip Wednesday evening to McCaw Hall in Seattle, viewing a dress rehearsal of Giacomo Puccini’s 19th century opera, “Tosca.”

R.E.A.C.H. is part of the Parent-Community-School Partnership Project, which also includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Bremerton Chapter, the Bremerton African American Ministerial Alliance (BAAMA) and the Community Leadership and Coalition Alliance (CLCA).

R.E.A.C.H. debuted at BHS during the 2006-07 school year and was created, among others, to reduce the high school dropout rate of African-American males by providing mentorship and rich educational activities outside the classroom.

“I like the kids, it’s (the program) doing some good,” said Lucy Johnson, who mentors R.E.A.C.H. students. “If I didn’t think it was doing good, I wouldn’t be in the program.”

The program’s mentors participate in field trips, help coordinate events and — most importantly — offer students a shoulder to lean on.

“My favorite part of the program is the mentors,” said BHS senior Kiara Dozier, who came along on the opera field trip. “They’ve helped me apply to colleges, and I never could have done it without them.”

The “Tosca” field trip was the latest of many R.E.A.C.H. excursions; it visited the Experience Music Project (EMP) at Seattle Center, the Quilters Exhibit in Tacoma and a college fair at the University of Puget Sound.

“We want to provide academically enriching activities,” said Community Liason and R.E.A.C.H. Director Keandra Thompson. “The opera was high atop that list.”

The “Tosca” excursion to McCaw Hall was made available by the C. Keith Memorial Trust, which was established in 2006 as an Area of Interest Fund of the Seattle Foundation. The fund gives Kitsap schools access to “blocks” of theatre tickets, allowing large groups of students to view performing arts shows. Kitsap County resident and performing arts enthusiast C. Keith Birkenfeld left the trust for Kitsap schools, before passing away in 2005.

Thompson said R.E.A.C.H. coordinators decided on “Tosca” for a variety of reasons.

“The star is an African-American and we wanted kids to see that,” she said. “You don’t have to fit a mold, anyone can be successful.”

And Wednesday’s field trip received overwhelming successful feedback from the 37 students who attended.

“This was our most impressive turnout,” Thompson said. “They couldn’t stop talking about it (the opera), they loved it so much.”

Fancy clothes, wide smiles and an energetic buzz radiated around the group of students, who rode a ferry and a bus to get to McCaw Hall.

“It was exciting,” said BHS senior Bianca Belton, who had never seen an opera before Wedneday night. “I really liked the story line and the tragedy.”

Added fellow BHS senior Julia Elia: “It was dramatic, and I felt sophisticated dressing up.”

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