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The circus comes to Millennium

Friday was a dramatic day for Millennium Middle School's sixth graders. They came to school as ordinary students. They left as clowns, jugglers and acrobats.

Thanks to a visit from the group Cirque Amongus - and the help of dozens of parent volunteers - the sixth-graders spent all day Friday learning to be circus stars.

After spending the morning learning 10 different skill sets vital to circus success, the students choreographed and staged their own show for parents, siblings and school staff.

It was a wildly entertaining scene: Millennium kids walking tightropes, balancing on unicycles and swinging on trapeze all while dressed in classic circus garb.

While the students were all too pleased to spend a day away from class, both kids and adults recognized that there was learning to be done amid the three rings of fun.

"You get to do things that you didn't know you could do before," said student Devin Petrico-London.

That, planners said, is the main goal of the Cirque Amongus program: Showing kids that they can achieve what they thought was impossible just hours before.

Sam Abrahams is a project manager with Cirque Amongus. He was one of four program employees who trained a group of more than 60 parent volunteers prior to the circus's visit. The parents, in turn, coached the several hundred sixth-graders on the day of the event.

Looking on as the students performed their show, Abrahams said the kids obtain a tremendous benefit from learning the complex maneuvers.

"Some kids surprise themselves. It's a great confidence boost," Abrahams said. "It's a life lesson for later on."

Bringing the program to Millennium for the second straight year was no small feat in itself. Planners obtained grants through the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and through the Michigan Humanities Council to fund the program. Beyond that, the school's PTO contributed generously to the effort, both in terms of dollars and hours committed.

Language Arts teacher Nancy Pantaleo first proposed bringing the program to Millennium last year. This year, she worked with parents Tammy McKenzie and Jennifer Santieu to coordinate the program and the massive volunteer effort needed to bring it all together.

But that pay-off was worth the effort, Pantaleo said, as the students practiced nearly every habit of mind emphasized in the school curriculum - from creativity to persistence to taking responsible risks. Just as importantly, she said, they had fun while learning.

"I see students who may be quieter in the classroom, and here's a chance for them to put on a costume and be somebody new," she said. "Plus, it's a reward for their hard work all year."

More information and pictures of the Millennium kids in action are available at The pictures are stored under the June 2 listing.

Dan Trudeau is a reporter for the South Lyon Herald. Reach him at (248) 437-2011 or at

Originally published June 8, 2006

Photo by HAL GOULD

Millennium Middle School sixth-grader Jacob Blaine-Wallner takes a tumble inside a barrel during the school's student circus last Friday. The group Cirque Amongus visited the school and taught sixth-grade kids how to perform like circus stars.