Former Army captain and retiring music teacher Pam McKinney leaves on a high note after second career serving kids at Lewisville’s Lakeland Elementary.
By DRU MURRAY
A much-beloved story of Africa—“The Lion King” of Disney fame—bloomed on a stage at LISD’s Lakeland Elementary School as “The Lion King KIDS” on Thursday, May 26. It blossomed with a beauty and sophistication bestowed upon it by the love and dedication of the play’s director Pam McKinney, of other teachers and parents who helped, and of the students who starred in it.
Word spread about the play’s excellence and with good reason.
Audience members eagerly anticipated the play’s commencement. Melton Heine and his wife Dorothy attended to see their great-grandchild Bailey Brooks, 10, perform. Bailey’s cousin Hailey Mayner, 11, was also in it. Bailey starred as Scar, while Hailey danced on stage as a zebra. Bailey’s step-grandparents, Richard and Beth Petty, came from The Colony to watch her performance.
Joe Brooks, the father of Bailey, had been awake since 3:30 a.m. that morning but had traveled from Royce City, Texas, to see his daughter, Bailey, in her role as Scar. Said Joe of Bailey, “I’m super proud of her. I like to say that she has her mother’s looks and her father’s personality. The railroad company I work for, Kansas City Southern, let me off early to get here. I haven’t been able to see the rehearsals so am really looking forward to this play.”
The acting, the singing of such songs as the fun “Hakuna Matata” and the memorable “Circle of Life,” and the dancing were all top notch and much of that is attributable to the efforts of Ms. McKinney. The performance Thursday night for the parents of third, fourth, and fifth grade students was the final of three separate performances. The two previous performances were for kindergartners and their parents.
Ms. McKinney, who retired on June 1, always goes the extra mile in anything she’s involved with. She didn’t start out as an educator. She began her professional life with a career in the military, and served as a U.S. Army captain in Korea. There, she spent time in a training unit in resource and development. She also worked in the automotive division of ordnance as a shop officer. “Once trucks were repaired, my crew would inspect them,” she said.
After her overseas military stint, Ms. McKinney said, “I worked for Johnson & Johnson as a warehouse manager for seven years in California. Then I came to Texas and worked for the Julius Schepps Company, a wholesale liquor distributor.” She confided with a chuckle, “I didn’t tell my grandmother what that company did. She wouldn’t have liked it.”
After the birth of her daughter Courtney, her priorities changed. “I wanted to be more accessible for her,” she explained. As a single mother with a degree in music and a teacher’s certificate, a new career path opened for her. “My whole family were educators. I then worked for Dallas Independent School District for two years and came to LISD (Lewisville Independent School District) in 2000 and was involved in directing children’s choirs in churches. Initially, I was a first-grade teacher, but when the position of music teacher came open, I thought about it, and I loved the kids, so I said, ‘Why not?’ and have loved every year.”
When asked what inspired her to stage a performance of “The Lion King KIDS,” Ms. McKinney stated, “I went to a conference and at it they had lesson plans for a production of ‘The Lion King KIDS.’ I asked a teacher—Angela Dierschke—if she would write a grant. Out of 135 applicants, we were one of the few who received one.”
One of reasons Ms. McKinney wanted to stage “The Lion King KIDS” was her concern for the students. She stated, “Most of our young kids are ESL (English as a second language) learners. A lot of the parents are from other countries. I wanted to put on the play so they’d know what resources we have to offer.”
“Many of our students from Mexico and the Chin children from Myanmar had never heard of ‘The Lion King.’ The Chin children related to the scenes in the play that portrayed turmoil between groups as some of them told classmates how they had been forced to escape from their country by riding in trucks at night,” said McKinney.
Ms. McKinney said Music Theatre International sent them the rights to perform “The Lion King KIDS” play, all the books and materials, the sound tracks, the director’s book, and even three African drums. She related how other teachers and staff contributed to the successful production: “I could put it on because of the staff. An art teacher and a coach created the background. None of the costumes were bought. All of the props we needed were made.”
She also praised the support she received from LISD’s Arts Department, saying “That’s why I loved working here and you can see it in everything.” Additionally, McKinney said, “Downing Middle School, who did ‘The Lion King Jr.,’ gave us all of their props and some of their students gave our kids advice. We took a field trip to see their play.”
Work on “The Lion King KIDS” commenced in January, Ms. McKinney said. “We had tryouts and callbacks. We then chose the actors. Then we held rehearsals on Tuesdays. Just before the play’s performances, they had to rehearse every night.”
Said Principal James Crockett of Ms. McKinney, “When I first came here, she was a first grade teacher when I asked her to be a music teacher. Lucky for me and the school, she said yes. This play highlights the dedication of our staff and the talent of our students. I believe we have the best choir in the city. The play includes the dance team and anyone else who wanted to be in it.”
Crockett added, “We have 900 kids in our multicultural school. About 75% of our students are Hispanic and 15–20% are Chin, refugees from Burma (Myanmar) for whom we use ESL strategies, and 5% are African-Americans. I think I have the hardest-working staff in town. We’re really making a difference; we have a full-time social worker and participate in the Food for Kids program and a big mentor program.”
In conclusion, Crockett noted that the play was “…hard work but for children to get an opportunity like this is special and it was all done after school.”
After the play, Richard Petty gave his impression of “The Lion King KIDS” in one powerful word: “Stagestruck.” He and others were allowed to take stills of the actors and dancers and speak with, congratulate, and photograph cast members. The stage was abuzz with admirers and excitement abounded among the young performers. Aranza de la Pena who played Zazu said of her experience, “I’m really happy. I learned new skills like how to get louder when you don’t have a mike.”
Besides Director McKinney, the Production Team consisted of Mrs. Bolinski, blocking/scenes; Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Laurie, and Mrs. Ruten, set designers; costume designers Mrs. Corbett and Ms. Sanchez; Mrs. Edley and Ms. Moore who were in charge of the music; Mrs. Tovar, Mrs. Probst, and Mrs. Holly, choreography; stage crew members Ms. Massey and Mrs. West; sound crew Mr. Clark and Mr. Johnson; lights, Mrs. Bibby-Grygar; marketing, Mrs. Criswell; Daniel Mung, a former Chin student who designed both the advertising banner; and Jozi Kettle designed the playbill.
Shaune Corbett, a broker of TruWest Realty, donated the money needed for making the costumes.
Cast members in Lakeland Elementary’s “The Lion King KIDS” included Kaylee Vazquez, Tiara Rebollar, Isabela Brzostowski, Ashley Laureano, and Alexis Burks as the Rafiki; Gia Clement as Mufasa; Judith Bustos as Sarabi; Aranza de la Pena as Zazu; Bailey Brooks as Scar; Alejandro Gonzalez as Young Simba; Arianna Ramsey as Young Nala; Jackie Calvillo as Shenzi; Esmeralda Rios as Banzai; Irma Ramsey as Ed; Xaliyah Robbins as Timon; Kara Shoven as Pumbaa; Johanan Luna as Simba; and Melissa Garcia as Nala.
The lions in the choir were Nancy Salas, Hannah Hamilton Melody Dawt Hlei Cuang, Ruth Sanchez, Brianna Duenes, Rose Smith, and Ximena Galleagos. Alina Heithaus, Deborah Galarza, and Angelina Rabon played the antelope. The zebras gracing the stage included Patrick Kay, Vania Hernandez, Gabriel Zamorano, Hazel Hamilton, and Maria Perdomo. Among those posing as wildebeests were Wyatt Abundiz, Jaemey Mendoza, Nancy Ibarra, and Joel Peng. The students who donned the tall-headed giraffe costumes were Emanuel Cung and Magaly Varela. Mia Jernigan portrayed a gazelle while several students played two roles: Kenan Lozano–Zebra/Wildebeest, Alondra Callvillo – Wildebeest/Antelope, and Miah Vanderpoel – Wildebeest/Zebra.
The Runnerettes were Roselyn Marquez, Nancy Miguel, Daniela Trevino, Candy Martinez, Jasmin Martinez, Denisse Cruz, Samantha Oliva, Tanya Patino, Kassandra Carrillo, Judith Salinas, Giselle Marquez, Ashley Cruz, Belinda Alegria, Emily Quiroz, Wendy Garcia, Deisi Gallegos, Stephanie Jaramillo, Oralis Rodriguez, Llarely Martinez, Katherine Flores, Valerie Zubieta, Estrella Gonzales, Caroline Ocano, and Sherlyn Cardona.
Madeleine de la Pena, Bik Ting-Moore, Alyssandra Ramsey, Colton Au, Jocelyn Sanchez, Joziel Coronado, Cheyene Barnett, Juan Gonzalez, Isabella Garibay, and Mattie Jacobs, all kindergartners and first graders, were the play’s young dancers.
Mrs. Antonellis, Mrs. Bertaud, Miss Preston, and Miss Perez served as the play’s makeup artists. Stage crew members were Abby Conaway, Cosme Martinez, and Daniel Brzostowski and the staff dancers include Ms. Tovar, Ms. Sutherland, Mrs. Bertaud, Ms. Cano, Ms. Probst, Ms. Mudd, Coach Ruten, Coach Laurie, Ms. Dittmeier, Ms. Campbell, Ms. Veazey, Ms. Almanza, and Mrs. Pittinger.