- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Stilts, pogo sticks and unicycles have taken over the gym at Yelm Prairie Elementary School.

Welcome to Circus Arts, one of the most popular activities offered at the 530-student school.

“It’s pretty cool that we’re able to do this,” said unicycle rider and sixth-grader Isaiah Thomas, 11. “Most schools don’t have stuff like this, so this is why I like Prairie so much.”

Teacher LeighAnn Charlston began offering Circus Arts as part of PE classes when she arrived at the school about 15 years ago. Back then, she’d invite families in to watch students show off their balancing skills.

But then students began creating intricate, choreographed routines, she said. It’s now a big tradition at the school. Charlston was supervising after-school rehearsals for groups involved in a performance.

About 130 students in grades 3 to 6 participated in the event. The public event was expected to fill the school’s gym to capacity with students’ families alone, according to principal Debbie McLaren.

“They pick their own music, they figure out their own routines, they have to work collaboratively, and then they also work on all of the skills that they learn in PE class,” Charlston said. “This is like our culminating project for Circus Arts.”

McLaren said the school’s parent-teacher organization has been generous about providing supplies for the program, but many students also use their own unicycles for the show.

“Lots of kids get unicycles for Christmas presents at Prairie Elementary,” she said.

In addition to providing physical activity and lessons in balance, students say Circus Arts is about teamwork and fun.

“We have to work very hard to put it together and we have to make sure that the whole team is doing it right,” Thomas said.

Sixth-grader Kylee Olsen, 12, said she walked on stilts during last year’s performance, and recently learned how to ride a unicycle for this year’s show.

Olsen said it wasn’t an easy skill to master, but it helped to learn alongside her triplet sisters Kayli and Keali.

“When I did it, I thought, ‘I can do anything,’” Olsen said.

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Information from: The Olympian, http://www.theolympian.com

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