WEST RICHLAND, Wash. — A circuslike atmosphere fills Tapteal Elementary's gym each Thursday afternoon, but there's not a lot of clowning around. That because "ringmaster" Shannon Case, a fourth-grade teacher at the West Richland school, is running the show.
She incorporates a three-strikes rule for the Circus Club. The three ways to get a strike are by not coming to practice, being picked up late and behavior problems. But she rarely has to use it because the kids are motivated to be there.
The 36 fourth- and fifth-graders signed up to practice riding unicycles, walking on stilts, throwing a Chinese yo-yo, juggling, pedaling wheeled walkers and spinning plates.
"I knew Circus Club would be more fun than being at home, so I tried it out," said Jakob Davis, a fourth-grader.
Case emphasizes and encourages students to learn the different skills during the 45-minute practices, which end with a "power clap" and then compliments shared with one another around the circle.
Case has been involved with the after-school activity for about five years. She said the club provides a way to help students become more involved with their school and because the tricks they learn can improve their learning skills.
"It really made me want to join when Mrs. Case told us that juggling helps our brain work together and it would help with my reading and math," said fourth-grader Anya Ruddell.
For each level mastered, students earn a colored bandana, the same way belts are achieved in karate.
The program began in 1991 as a structured recess but has remained popular with kids and parents.
Club members are scheduled to perform this year at three school assemblies and Case is hoping to be able to arrange a community performance.