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Understanding an ‘Unpredictable’ life

By JANET COOK

News staff writer

April 12

A group of sixth-graders at Wy’east Middle School was studying people going through difficult times earlier this year when they hit on a unique way to explore the theme further.

The students in Nancy Behrman’s advanced reading class decided they wanted to do more than just read about others coping with hardship.

“We decided we wanted to do a play about somebody going through a hard time,” said sixth-grader Noel Mellor. The students chose to focus on Hood River native Noah Smith, who was severely injured in a 2002 car accident that left him paralyzed.

The Wy’east students e-mailed Noah in California, where he now lives and attends Project Walk, an innovative rehab facility, and asked him if they could use postings from his Web site for a self-directed play about him.

Noah agreed and the students have been working for nearly two months to create a script and produce the play. They will perform their play, titled “Unpredictable,” on Friday night in the Wy’east cafeteria/auditorium.

The students came up with a unique approach to the play by having students sit on stage and read excerpts from Noah’s Web site postings. Interspersed with the readings are specific scenes performed behind a transparent screen, where shadows create the characters being portrayed — who range from Noah’s mom, Marilyn, to President Bush.

In this way, the students re-enact scenes from the accident itself as well as portray issues brought up by Noah in his writing, such as as pleas for expanded medical research into finding a cure for paralysis.

Sixth-grader Malika Reynolds is the play’s director. Everyone in the class is involved in the production. Some are actors while others are in charge of lighting, sound and props.

“It’s really been their own deal,” Behrman, their teacher, said.

Noah Smith was unavailable for comment this week because he was in Washington, D.C., for a rally and gathering of Cure Paralysis Now, a grassroots organization advocating greater medical research into curing paralysis.

Noah’s dad, John, said he was “impressed” with what the Wy’east students were doing despite having no personal connections to the Smith family. He called the upcoming play a “selfless tribute to Noah.”

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