The entire sixth grade class of Camden-Rockport Middle School joined the circus Jan. 10, entertaining the crowd in the bleachers with acrobats, clowns, balancing tricks, ringmasters and stories enacted by historical figures.

The students' three-ring circus brought to life a popular entertainment of the past. The spectacle of balancing plates, spinning a diablo, tumbling, human pyramids, marveling at the invention of electricity, meeting Annie Oakely, and stories of the railroad, Civil War and Wild West, brought the audience back in time.

The performance was the culmination of a learning experience involving social studies, art, gym class, language arts, as well as a Youth Arts-funded field trip to Hope Air and a work session with Circus Ship author Chris Van Dusen.

The circus was chosen as a curriculum focus because it connects all the subjects, according to social studies teacher Jim Morse. "It was also an instant hook for the students in that their natural curiosity helped lead us in some new directions," he said.

The acrobats, globe ball balancers, jugglers, tumblers, clowns and "human caterpillars" displayed impressive skills taught by physical education teacher Dana Southworth, retired PE teacher Matt Brown, and the staff at Hope Air, which specializes in aerial sports and arts. Students developed the acts around their physical strengths and engaged in preparing for their performance in front of a real audience, according to Southworth.

Students learned acting and movement skills with Foner Curtis, Ellen Curtis, who directs CRMS' plays and musicals, Erma Colvin, who produces the school's dance shows, and  clown skits with Brad LaRoach.

Students learned about real circus performers through art and language studies. In Kristen Andersen's art class, they researched figures from circus history and studied the work of sculptor Alexander Calder, chose their circus performer and created whimsical sculptural represensentations. "Learning about the people in the circus really brought its unique culture alive," Andersen said. With language arts teacher Jessica Odgren, students learned how to use figurative language to describe the personalities of their circus performer, and created placards to advertise the figures. All of the circus figures were displayed on tables lining the hallway on the way to the performance.

Morse had students connect the circus to important events throughout the 1800s. Student-created historical sketches performed under the spotlight by costumed characters were woven into the circus performance.