NORTH BENNINGTON -- The past week and a half has literally been a circus for the Village School of North Bennington.
Students of all ages have had the opportunity to work with Troy Wunderle, the director of clowning for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the owner of Wunderle's Big Top Adventures.
"I find that one of the most beautiful things about youth is that they haven't forgotten how to play," Wunderle said. "The kids come to this gym and they're exposed to a whole host of circus skills with enough variety that everyone finds at least something, if not multiple things that attract them."
According to Wunderle, students spent anywhere from half an hour to a little over an hour, exploring a variety of circus skills, including juggling, clowning, rib stick tossing, and balancing on globes.
"They learned how to relax and understand that they're not going to master all the skills at once and they also learned to overcome their fear of failure. That is a big part of this," he said. "It's primarily a program that allows kids to push the personal expectations that each of them have on themselves."
Grade levels trained under Wunderle separately and worked to prepare for a community circus show, presented Wednesday night to parents, families and teachers.
At the end of each class, students were given free time to test their own limits and perhaps explore a new skill, Wunderle said, noting the joy he gets from watching the kids grow with each passing class and year.
This is Wunderle's fourth time at the VSNB, and his second visit this year. He also visited the school in honor of their annual first day of school celebration.
"When I come back to a school multiple times, I really do feel like I'm a piece of the community. It's fun to come back and not only be intrigued by how things change but blown away by how kids grow," he said. "In a week and a half, some of these kids go from never being exposed to some of this, to failing a whole bunch of times, to ultimately becoming successful and being brave enough to present those skills in public."
The motto of Wunderle's company, which he started in 1995, is "to spread joy, create memories, and inspire dreams."
"My hope is that on a daily basis, I'm spreading joy within the communities that I attend and that some of these activities and moments will be some that the kids remembers forever," said Wunderle, who noted that he believes his program serves to help students "ignite" their passion for circus arts.
"I've had students that have really pursued it as a career," he said. "Once I taught a kid that started with me in elementary school, worked his way up and is now touring with Cirque du Soleil. You have no idea the direction in which these kids can go -- you don't know who you're inspiring or on what level. My goal is to inspire everyone on their own levels. I feel so incredibly grateful to do what I do."
Principal Tom Martin explained that programs like Wunderle's are extremely valuable to students and that it is synonymous with the Village School's culture.
"In order for any school to be successful, the kids have got to want to be there -- they've got to want to enjoy the experience," he said. "There's serious work that we do here, but underneath that is creating a culture where kids are excited, where they want to be here. Things like this (Wunderle's program) really add to the overall sense that we try to craft here. We want kids to be excited about school."
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