How far they’ll go- San Juan students bring Moana to the stage

In March San Juan Elementary School presented their much-anticipated production of the beloved Disney classic, “Moana”. Over 60 students in third to fifth-grade channeled their inner demigods and ocean voyagers for many months, preparing to bring the adventurous tale to life on stage. Teachers and the dedicated cast stayed after school memorizing lines, perfecting dance moves, and setting the stage, which made the production a memorable one. Naturally, no production of “Moana” would be complete without its iconic musical numbers. From the catchy tune of “You’re Welcome” to the stirring anthem of self-discovery, “How Far I’ll Go,” –sung in English and Spanish, San Juan Elementary’s bilingual students inspired audiences of all ages.

For the students, taking part in the production of “Moana” isn’t just about a school musical—it’s about embracing the values of courage, determination, and teamwork that lie at the heart of the story. Not to mention, it improves reading fluency as they practice and re-read their lines! Much like Moana who embarks on a daring voyage, the young performers at San Juan Elementary School navigated the challenges of bringing a musical to life, learning valuable lessons about perseverance, collaboration and resilience. As director, Gaby Reyes, says, “It’s not just about putting on a great show; it’s about getting shy students to come out of their shells and challenging them to try something new and be risk-takers.” Teachers at San Juan believe that the musical also helps close the achievement gap because it improves attendance, student motivation, self-confidence, and develops leadership skills that then extend back into the classroom.

Naomi Bagdasarian who played Moana shared, “Initially I wanted to be on the backstage crew so I was surprised when I got the part as Moana. I had to overcome feeling nervous about singing in public. I had to push myself but it taught me to believe in myself. I also loved getting to know other kids outside my grade level and making new friends.”

The part of Maui was depicted triumphantly by fifth-grader Jimena Esquivel. “The musical really helped improve my confidence a lot”, she voiced, “On Day 1 I was shy and overthinking it and thought, ‘I can’t do this’. But the further we got into it I got used to singing and dancing in front of others. It was really great to get so many compliments. It made me feel famous!”

Fiona Mehrens added, “I learned how to multi-task because I was Chief Ancestor, helped the backstage crew, and sang in multiple scenes. It was fun to see it all come together after, like, 6 months of rehearsals. It made us feel proud of our hard work and accomplishments.”

And perhaps one of the most magical aspects of San Juan Elementary school’s production of “Moana” is the sense of community it has fostered within the school. Over 10 dedicated teachers, dozens of parent volunteers, and students alike have come together to support one another, whether it was by fundraising, building sets, or simply offering words of encouragement. In a world where the seas can sometimes feel rough, it is heartwarming to see the entire school rallying behind these young performers as they set sail on their theatrical journey.  This year the cast was honored to have special guests such as Trustee Gila Jones, and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Brad Shearer, attend their performances.

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