Watts Elementary School, Durham, NC

This NC48 Leadership project involved designing and building an outdoor amphitheater on the playground of Watts Elementary School. The amphitheater accommodated a minimum of 120 children, or two entire grades at once. July 2002.

Watts school getting amphitheater

By Michael Petrocelli, The Herald-Sun
August 4, 2002 7:02 pm

Nikki Rice of Chapel Hill and Fran Bateman of Creedmoor haul a bench into place as members from their WorldLegacy Leadership Program team create an outdoor amphitheater on the grounds of George Watts Elementary School. The 19-member team is completing a community service project.

DURHAM — It may not be on quite the scale of the ones built by ancient Greeks and Romans, but this school year students at George Watts Elementary School will have an outdoor amphitheater to call their own.

Volunteers from the WorldLegacy, an adult-education organization, were putting the finishing touches on the small structure this weekend, donating labor and materials to the Trinity Park school.

Laurel Ferejohn, a Duke University employee and member of a leadership seminar at the WorldLegacy, said her group was looking for a project that would help low-income children.

She asked the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership for suggestions. It set up a meeting with educators from Watts, which has one of the district’s highest percentage of poor children, to come up with ideas.

Watts is home to a program that emphasizes literature, and teachers were lamenting the fact that the school did not have a space for readings and performances of plays, said David Stein, who heads the Duke community organization.

“Someone said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had an amphitheater?’ and Laurel just about jumped out of her seat,” Stein recalled.

What makes the structure an amphitheater is not its size — Principal Carol Marshall expects it will seat about 150 pint-sized spectators — but its curved, tiered seating looking onto an open stage.

The stage will be used for performances of student-written plays and readings by local children’s authors, Marshall said.

Previously the only place to hold such events was in the school’s acoustically challenged gymnasium, where the constant echoes made it hard for students to pay attention, she said.

The project by the roughly 20 WorldLegacy volunteers will be an ideal complement to what educators are trying to achieve at the school, Marshall said.

“It came from talking about what children need at school and what adults could offer as resources,” Marshall said.

Stein agreed, saying the amphitheater will give teachers a chance to get their students out of the classroom for a nice change of pace.

“Sometimes if you’re in an outdoor space, it resonates more with kids,” Stein said.

For now, the amphitheater is only targeted for use by the school, but Marshall said it will not bother her if local residents get the urge to tread its boards after-hours.

“When there’s a stage, it’s kind of hard for kids not to get on it,” she said. “It’s kind of a natural draw for anyone that’s going by.”

Reprinted from The Herald-Sun, (Durham, NC)