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Expanding Horizons

Expanding Horizons: FEF Grant Fosters Enrichment and Diversity at Morse Pond 

By Sarah E. Murphy 

 Chinese acrobat Li Liu on Morse Pond stageScreams of excitement echoed throughout the Morse Pond School auditorium when Chinese acrobat Li Liu recently visited the Ospreys to demonstrate her gravity-defying, awe-inspiring skills. 

The school-wide program, which she presented in two performances for all fifth and sixth-graders and their teachers, was made possible by a continuing grant from Falmouth Education Foundation awarded to Library/Digital Learning Teacher Liz Abbott. 

Born in Shenyang in the Northeast of China, Ms. Liu began her acrobatic training with her father when she was just six years old. A year later, she was chosen to attend the Chinese National Circus School in Beijing, where she studied until the age of 16. Recognized for her skill and dedication to her craft, she spent many years traveling extensively throughout Europe, Africa and Asia with the Liaoning Acrobatic Arts Troupe. 

Ms. Liu first came to the United States in 2000 with Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey, and spent two years touring around the country. She now lives in Connecticut and is a regular on the NBA & WNBA half-time circuits, in addition to being a featured performer for Princess Cruise Lines. She also exhibited her talent during an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. Today she continues to travel, but now her preferred venue is schools, where she shares her contagious enthusiasm for her craft. 

“I’m very excited to be performing here today,” Ms. Liu said to a loud round of applause, after being introduced by Morse Pond Principal Tim Adams.

Ms. Liu began by teaching the students a few phrases in her native Chinese, recounting how she and her classmates would greet their teachers each day, which the Ospreys and their teachers repeated in unison. She then took the stage and immediately began a choreographed routine showcasing her many years of athleticism, such as a handstand balancing with her elbows, or elevating herself to a completely upright position on a small table, using only one hand, all while balancing spinning plastic plates attached to a hand-held stick. Ms. Liu explained the plates, or discs, are inspired by the Chinese yo-yo. 

Throughout the program, Ms. Liu invited students  onstage to test their skills, such as standing in a line passing a spinning plastic plate to each other using hand-held dowels. The excited screams got louder as the audience watched their classmates nervously and cheered them on, clapping as they successfully passed the plate down the line to Ms. Liu.

She discussed the cultural importance of the Chinese New Year, which she compared to Christmas, for it is a time of family traditions, gift-giving, and a special dinner, such as Chinese dumplings. She demonstrated the lesson by performing a traditional Chinese ribbon dance, one of the highlights of the Chinese New Year festivities, which she also invited students to join.

Ms. Liu concluded by offering insight into her success, which she attributed to hard work and dedication, practicing eight hours a day, in addition to her schoolwork. Those efforts were recognized in 1984, when her artistic cycling act won a gold medal at the prestigious Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris. She often teamed up with her sister for duo acts conceived by their coach and father, including a hand-balancing act that was selected to perform at the prestigious Wuqiao International Circus Festival in China, where they were awarded the Golden Lion prize.

Having the opportunity to share her passion for acrobatics with young people across the country and encourage them to pursue their own dreams is rewarding for Ms. Liu.

“I love sharing my talent and making children happy. I think we all learn something from each other,” she said. 

Morse Pond School Principal Tim Adams underscored the impact of the program.

“It’s fantastic for the kids to have these experiences and the chance to learn from presenters from different cultures,” he said. 

“What a treat for them to see and meet people from all over the globe, sharing different backgrounds.”

He explained that the original goal of Mrs. Abbott’s FEF grant, “Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Doors,” was to bring diverse authors to the school and to expand the library’s offerings to reflect the diversity of the student population. It has since expanded to visual performers, including musicians, dancers, athletes and artists, such as World Bronze Medalist and Paralympic Athlete Femita Ayanbeku, who visited last December, and Hero Artist Rob Surette, who visited in early March.

“Authors can be fairly difficult to book because they’re often on tour for a current title and in high demand. We decided the sky’s the limit to what we can bring in, but always with the lens of providing a diverse selection of enrichment opportunities for our students,” Mr. Adams said. 

“Liz has done a great job planning things a year or two ahead as part of a long-range sustainability plan. She continues to find new and surprising things to add to the calendar. I’m floored by how widely traveled these people are. They’ve performed at much larger venues, so the fact they’re making a stop in little old Falmouth is pretty neat.”

Liz Abbott underscored Falmouth Education Foundation’s impact, not only on the school library but also the student experience. 

“Without FEF, none of this would be possible. They’re such wonderful partners, and they help me through every step and phase of the process,” she said. 

“We try to make sure each and every student has representation from a presenter, to the best of our ability, based on their interests and backgrounds. Having performers of all different backgrounds and specialities is really important for the kids, and I always tie it in with a book in the library, so they’re introduced to topics they might not necessarily read.”

There are two upcoming programs before the close of the school year: Jerry Craft, author of the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Award in May, followed by Kazu Kibuishi, creator of the popular Amulet series. Mr. Kibuishi’s June appearance will coincide with the Mullen-Hall fourth-grade visit to Morse Pond and Falmouth Public Schools' Literacy Night.

Hadley Duncan, a sixth-grader in Marjorie Mercer and Marybeth Deasy’s team, participated in the plate-spinning. 

“It was really fun and sort of nerve-wracking because I didn’t want to drop one,” she said. 

She enjoys being able to connect and learn from the presenters in-person.

“It’s exciting to have them actually come and visit,” she said. 

According to Hadley, while the performers have all been different, they shared a similar message with the students. 

“You can do a lot of things that seem hard, but you have to do the work,” she said. 

Sarah E. Murphy