HUMBOLDT PARK — One mark of a good teacher is going above and beyond — taking that extra step, extra hour, or going that extra mile for a child.
Two teachers at Erie Elementary Charter School in Humboldt Park did just that when they wanted their students to experience putting on a play like the pros, raising $6,351 via Kickstarter to make it happen.
In her third year at Erie, 1405 N. Washtenaw Ave., music teacher Kim Kays has always worked to instill a passion for the arts in her students, and putting on a play is just part of that.
She sees all the Erie kids once a week for music classes, something she believes is critically important for the kids' development.
"I think it helps to broaden kids' minds," the 31-year-old Kays said. "It makes them a more well-rounded person and it makes them think in ways they wouldn't normally think. It exposes them to genres and styles they're not used to listening to in their households."
She's seen other schools suffer serious cuts to their music programs, but she's optimistic that things are looking better for the future.
"I think people are finally pushing back, and parents are telling their schools how important it is for their kids to have those opportunities," she said.
Though this year's play — "James and the Giant Peach" — won't be a musical, Kays will design the costumes and help out with other aspects, all of which saw a big boost from her and special education teacher Evan Trad's Kickstarter efforts.
Trad got involved with the school play four years ago when Kays' predecessor approached him with the idea of a musical.
Each year since, Trad has taken on the play and all the extra work that goes along with it — after-school rehearsals, building sets, making props, etc.
"I've been involved in theater since I was in elementary school, and directed plays in college and high school," the 30-year-old Trad said. "Theater's just a passion that I wanted to give to the students."
He does all this on top of his duties as a sixth-grade special education teacher and adviser to a group of eighth-grade boys, for which he displays just as much passion as he does for theater.
"I love it. I love the kids, and I love the age where they start to figure out their independence but still really need that guidance from adults," he said.
He'd originally studied to teach younger students, but found his calling after starting his career at Erie seven years ago.
"I had my heart set on teaching preschool, and then I got a job teaching elementary here, and just have moved up with the kids," he said, adding, "Never in a million years would I have thought I'd be teaching middle school."
Though Kays' and Trad's passion for their work is evident, they credit their school for making a happy, familylike atmosphere for the students and staff alike.
"This school is really, really wonderful," said Trad. "It's a very positive environment, and the administration and the teaching staff are all very supportive."
As for this year's play, Trad and Kays already have started working on auditions and, armed with more than quadruple their usual budget, they are shopping for a soundboard, spotlight and other equipment they hope to use for years to come.
Performances of "James and the Giant Peach" are scheduled to begin in early February.