PITTSFIELD -- Taconic High School students and others made an appropriately dramatic plea before the School Committee this week to preserve participation in the Fall Festival of Shakespeare.
"Please help us save our program" said Kylie Mason, a student representative from Taconic High on the committee.
Mason was the first of a dozen speakers who gave sometimes emotional testimony on the effect the annual festival offered to schools by Shakespeare & Company has had on their lives.
She said it was announced at a meeting Tuesday that the theater company could no longer afford to subsidize Taconic's participation at a reduced rate, and word spread rapidly through social media, prompting an outpouring of support at the board's Wednesday meeting.
"This gives us a place to express who we are," said one student, adding that the camaraderie among participants is intense and immediate and extends long after students graduate and move on.
"This changed me," another student said. "I made so many new friends there. I learned to communicate there ... To think this could be gone is sad."
Others said the program changed their lives by giving them confidence in communicating with others, expressing themselves or finding new friends. They said the experience was one they'd always remember.
Kevin Coleman, education director at Shakespeare & Company, told the committee that the cost is about $20,000 for each participating school, but that through fundraising and grant funding, the theater company reduces the cost to $13,000 for schools in the county. New York schools pay the full $20,000, he said.
However, Taconic High, which has participated for 22 years, has been allowed to pay $3,000 for students to attend, Coleman said, adding, "We simply cannot afford to underwrite this anymore. We need your help."
Mason said the other participating schools have developed a fund to cover the cost but that Taconic had not done so. The students were not necessarily seeking full funding, she said, but "whatever help you can give us," which might be coupled with fundraising.
Committee members and Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless expressed strong support for finding a solution and praised the students for their eloquence and advocacy.
"We'll figure this out," McCandless said.
He said the students were a testament to the effectiveness of the program offered by the Lenox-based theater company.
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