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Starland Puts Children Ahead

Youngsters learn lessons to grow and flourish while having fun.

Editor’s Note—This is the first of two stories about Deerfield’s Starland Creativity Center. This one describes some of what the children learn. Next week will feature a story telling how founder Adam More, a Deerfield native, brought his dream to reality. 

The honest innocence in the comments of the students at the in Deerfield gives a clear message the organization is fulfilling its mission. 

Children from babies through middle school across the North Shore come to the Deerfield location to improve their skills in dance, drama, technology and other disciplines. The youngsters have been other places and know the difference. 

Not everyone can be part of all of Starland’s activities. There is a rite of progression. A drama group will produce the “Phantom Tollbooth” April 20-22. The cast members are children from second through sixth grade who had to audition for their parts. They know what they have. 

“It’s so original here,” Samara Kohn of Northbrook said. “I’ve done this in a lot of places where you get the part because of how old you are. Here you get it because you’re right for it. A second grader can get a lead.” 

Handing out parts on talent and performance at an audition is not lost on the cast members. Rose Benensohn of Highland Park, like Kohn, appreciates what she has at Starland because she knows she has earned it. 

“It made me feel really good because only at Starland you can get the part if you’re the youngest because you’re good at it,” Benensohn said of seeing her name on the cast list for “Phantom Tollbooth.” 

Second Chances Come True 

Instructor Elizabeth Mazur Levin of Highland Park, who is directing the production as part of the Starland staff, also understands the disappointment of students who are not selected. She gives them encouragement and points them to other Starland classes to polish their skills. 

“Many of these kids know what it feels like not to be on the list,” Levin said of the class. One of those young people is Zoe Shiman of Northbrook. She is part of the Phantom Tollbooth cast but she has experienced not being selected making this opportunity special.

“When I saw my name not on the list (for a different show) I was depressed. They told me what I needed to do and I took more classes,” Shiman said. “It felt really good because I accomplished all the goals I worked for,” she added referring to her selection for the current play.

Not everyone comes to Starland for fine arts. sixth grader Aaron Cohen had two weeks between the end of summer camp and the start of school. He did not want to spend the time staying home so he enrolled in a Starland tech arts class learning computer programming.

“We learned how to drag blocks to make a program,” Cohen said. “I was already tech savvy so I decided to do it.” Little did he know the work at Starland would set him apart from other students in a computer class he took in the fall at Caruso.

Skills Empower

Since Cohen already knew the program the Caruso class was using, he finished the assignment quickly and found himself assisting the teacher by helping other classmates. “I felt empowered by people looking up to me,” he said. “It was cool.”

Another selective group at Starland is the competitive dance team taught and coached by Nook E. X. He has headed the team for the least three years where it has finished second and third in competitions but never first in hip hop dancing. They want to change that.

“Our goal is to win every competition,” Nook said of the five planned this year. “If we work together we’ll be A-OK.”

Nook has put together a group of enthusiastic participants. They have developed an appreciation of the medium and its cultural significance.

“He (Nook) does it in a way it’s really fun. We see different techniques,” Sarah Schaffel of Deerfield said. “In Deerfield and Highland Park we don’t see this (kind of dancing). We’ve really developed it and expect more.”

Grace Vani of Deerfield appreciates the technique Nook has implemented in her art and the attitude he has helped her develop. “Nook is really good the way he picks us up,” she said. “He’s done a lot for my dancing.” 

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