Curtains up!

Summer Theatre Camp brings live theater back to the stage

Expect moments of magic during “Into the Woods Jr.,” presented on Friday, July 2, by the Grosse Pointe Public Schools Summer Theatre Camp.

The magic began with camp co-directors Heather Albrecht and Michelle Stackpoole working with a cast of 19 to pull off a full-scale production in only nine rehearsal days.

Albrecht and Stackpoole, choir and drama teachers at Pierce Middle School, have worked together since 2009. The camp was originally housed at The War Memorial, but four years ago they added it to the Grosse Pointe Public School System summer musical offerings. Proceeds raised this year will support the purchase of additional technology to further enhance musical theater in the district.

Last year the camp was on hiatus due to COVID-19. This spring, the two selected “Into the Woods Jr.” for two primary reasons: it has a smaller cast, allowing for social distancing on stage, and it is geared to older students.

“We wanted to find something for the kids who were the oldest and this might be their last chance since they missed it last year,” Albrecht said.

Moreover, it was a show she personally had long wanted to direct.

“I love this show and it’s something you could never do with younger kids because it is really challenging,” Albrecht said, adding the production includes “incredible music, fun stories and fun characters.”

For Stackpoole, who is preparing to transition to her new role as a library media specialist at Monteith Elementary School in the fall, the prospect of a music-heavy show requiring less drama direction and choreography was less daunting.

The camp began Monday with auditions. Upon registration, campers were given the script and score and were told to think about what roles they might want to audition for.

“A lot of them came in raring to go,” Stackpoole said.

One hour into the first day, the show was cast and Albrecht worked with the actors on vocals while Stackpoole began blocking.

“We just don’t stop,” Stackpoole said.

On Wednesday, they completed a major opening number and the first 25 pages of the script.

“We recorded it and we put in a shared drive and we said, ‘OK, that’s your homework,” Stackpoole said. “Watch and review it because we won’t spend much time on it tomorrow; we just need to keep moving forward.’”

Part of the fun for the directors is working with the cast and the district’s technical crew to meet challenges that have to be addressed in a short timeframe. For example, one student expressed interest in playing the role of lead character Jack’s cow, Milky White. Stackpoole said she is working with district technician PJ Veltri on options.

Albrecht and Stackpoole urge community members to attend to support the program and the performers, experience live theater again, and witness those “moments of magic” Stackpoole promises will occur on stage.

“I think people will want to see it, not just to experience theater, but because these kids are incredibly talented,” Albrecht said.

“Into the Woods,” a Stephen Sondheim musical, intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales, exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests.

Performances are 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, July 2, in Pierce’s auditorium. Tickets are available at Posterity Gallery in the Village and at the door. Seating is open and doors open 15 minutes before performance time.

Introducing ‘Voices’

Welcome to “Voices,” a video podcast whose purpose is to give voice to teachers, administrators, parents and students about topics of interest to the school community.

The topic of the first episode is the fifth-grade middle school experience. The guests — a fifth-grade teacher, parent of a fifth-grader, and fifth-grade teacher who has a fifth-grade son — share their experiences with the transition to middle school, including challenges presented by COVID-19 and improvements they see in store for next year.

Stay tuned until the end to hear the voices of fifth graders sharing what they liked best about their first year in the middle school.

The show was produced in cooperation with the district’s Career and Technical Education TV production program.

Next up is a visit with GPPSS’s new superintendent, Dr. Jon Dean, who will share what he heard during a series of listening sessions with staff, parents and community members.

Meet Brandon Wheeler

From playing professional soccer in England to winning two state championships and four regional titles as a boys’ high school soccer coach to teaching social studies and English, Brandon Wheeler brings a wealth of experience with him as Grosse Pointe South High School’s new assistant principal and athletic director.

Most recently, Wheeler taught and coached at Leland Public School, where he organized, designed and aligned the social studies curriculum and taught a range of middle and high school social studies and English classes.

Prior to that he taught economics, world history and English at the secondary level at Mason Public Schools.

Wheeler also has extensive coaching experience as a boys’ varsity golf coach, boys’ middle school and varsity assistant basketball coach, boys’ varsity/J.V. soccer coach, and boys’ varsity soccer assistant/goalkeeper coach.

While at Leland, he served as acting district administrator/representative in the absence of a superintendent/principal, assisting in a variety of administrative roles including teacher leader, student discipline, game/evening management, data-analysis, school improvement, emergency protocol execution, curriculum design and IEP liaison.

At 19, Wheeler spent a year on a professional soccer team as a goalie. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, teaching certifications and a Master of Arts degree in K-12 Educational Administration, all from Michigan State University.

Working in an administrative position has long been his goal, he said, and the combination of academics and athletics in the assistant principal/AD position was particularly attractive to him. Having friends who attended Grosse Pointe South, he was aware of the reputation of both the school and the district.

“The district has always been on my radar because of its rich tradition of excellence,” he said.

Even as a child, Wheeler dreamed of working in education as an administrator. His role models were his father, a 32-year administrator, and his mother, a kindergarten music teacher.

“I saw the way they were both able to impact lives and I thought that was a worthwhile pursuit,” he said.

At the same time, he wasn’t in a rush to leave the classroom or his role as a coach of multiple sports. His experiences at Leland in particular — a small school where he wore many hats — particularly prepared him for his new role.

The range of experiences also reinforced his personal philosophy that the most important aspect of coaching student athletes is to help them reach their goals on the field or court and in life.

“I believe it’s really about growing good people — setting them up to be successful in whatever sport they choose, but also ensure we’ve raised good people because that’s what being a part of a community is about,” he said.

Wheeler’s other top priority, as an athletic director, will be to support coaches.

“The best athletic directors I’ve worked with in the past made me feel they work for me as opposed to I worked for them,” he said. “Coaches should feel administrators have their back and are supportive. I think that the most important thing is looking for that culture. We’re all here for the same thing, which is to make kids successful. That’s the best thing we can do for kids as we make our decisions every day, day in and day out.”

Becoming part of the community where he works is part of that commitment. Wheeler and his wife, Cassandra, are moving with their 10-week-old son, Jonathan — born on Easter Sunday — to their new home in Grosse Pointe Woods this summer before he assumes his new position on Aug. 2.

“That’s always been really important to me to live in the district,” he said. “For our family, that’s a really good thing to be a part of the community and it doesn’t get any better than Grosse Pointe.”

The couple, married in February 2020, met due to their shared interest in athletics. Cassandra played soccer at Saginaw Valley State University and the two crossed paths while each was coaching soccer in the Lansing area.

Playing, coaching and watching sports is their favorite pastime.

“That’s really our life, being in and around athletics,” Wheeler said. “We are really looking forward to this new adventure and getting to take part in all things athletic at South.”

Step-by-step online enrollment instructions

Please help us spread the word to families who may wish to re-enroll their child in GPPSS that re-enrolling is now available entirely online. Visit gpschools.org/enrollment to begin. Step-by-step guidance to the enrollment process is available on this screencast. You can review this checklist of required documents you will need to upload to complete the enrollment process.

For tips on how to scan documents from your Smartphone, click here.

If you have any questions about enrollment, please reach out to verify@gpschools.org.

School Pointes is a publication of the Grosse Pointe Public School System. To submit story ideas or Pointes of Pride, email info@gpschools.org.