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Beloved drama teacher takes a bow

Parents, faculty and Maniscalco alumni filled the school cafeteria Tuesday to pay tribute to Lynn Leahy and enjoy her last play written just for them.

By JOHN PETRIMOULX
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002


LUTZ -- Every year since Maniscalco Elementary opened, Lynn Leahy has directed her fourth-graders in a musical she wrote and produced.

This year's play, There's No Place Like Home, had a special meaning for Leahy and her students, though, because it was her last. After 30 years, 13 at Maniscalco, she is leaving the public school system for a job at Citrus Park Christian School.

Parents, faculty and Maniscalco alumni filled the school cafeteria Tuesday to pay tribute to Leahy and enjoy her last creation. They witnessed the story of an alien and an astronaut returning to Earth from an extended space voyage into the middle of the Lutz Homeland Celebration.

Amid the strains of God Bless America and the Star Spangled Banner, astronaut Shawn, played by John Ivey, tried to explain the meaning of love and home to Orbit the alien, played by Lyndsie Sigler. Other performers explained what is special to them about the places they love -- America, Florida, Lutz or Maniscalco.

The cast of 40 included alumni who returned for the performance. Joe Alliotta left Maniscalco in 1995, but came back as the announcer for this year's play. "It's weird how you remember all the little things," he said. "When we sang the school song, I still knew every word."

Alliotta has known Leahy since the first grade. "I've done puppet and drama classes with her at church," he said. "She is the most creative person I know."

Alliotta says he'll never forget how Leahy used to have people come to class pretending to be a famous person the class had just studied.

"We all thought they were the real person," he said. "One time a famous runner came in, but as soon as I saw him I remember thinking, "Hey, what's going on? That's my pastor!"'

Chiles Elementary principal Sharon Beaubien also returned for the performance. She worked with Leahy for 12 years at Maniscalco, three as principal. Beaubien says Leahy's use of drama reminds her of how elementary school has changed.

"I had a drama class every year back when I was in elementary school," she said. "In this day and age teachers are more confined because they are responsible for a lot more curriculum."

Teachers now have to be creative to be able to integrate the many curriculum requirements in the way Leahy does with her plays, said Beaubien, who called Leahy "a master at teaching social studies."

Leahy's past musicals have brought to life the history of Lutz, Ybor City, an African folk tale set in the Everglades. She credits Maniscalco's first principal, Lamar Hammer, for the idea to do a play.

"He thought all kids should get the chance to perform in front of their peers and parents," she said. She chose this year's theme because "I have a strong connection to this school. I wanted to honor the place with this last play."

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