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‘Westside Story’ Strikes Chord with Dos Pueblos’ English Learners

Students take in the sights and sights of the musical at Hollywood's Pantages Theater

The sounds of Westside Story have been permeating the halls of Dos Pueblos High School ever since 91 of the school’s star-struck English learner students returned from their first-time visit on Nov. 30 to the musical Westside Story at Hollywood’s storied Pantages Theater.

For their special night out, the students were guests of composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim and the producers of Westside Story’s West Coast premiere.

Sondheim’s soaring lyrics to “Maria ... I just met a girl named Maria,” struck a chord with these students, as did his whimsical “I feel pretty, oh so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and bright.”

After the performance, the students were ushered into a private salon, where they enjoyed a conversation with the actors who inspired them with words of encouragement.

“Awesome,” “amazing” and “fabulous” were typical student reactions to this first-time experience. “I never imagined such a thing existed,” one student said. “I felt like it was too beautiful for me to be there.”

As a result of their foray to the Pantages, many of these English learner students resolved to enroll in a theater class at Dos Pueblos. The trip was masterminded by DP theater instructor Clark Sayre, who, inspired to do his part to help close the achievement gap among English learners, arranged for the free tickets, thus ensuring a memorable and unforgettable experience for the students.

— Salvador Güereña is director of the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives Department of Special Collections of the Donald Davidson Library at UCSB.

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