"The Magic of St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School"
by Peggy Lohman
As part of their service-learning curriculum, all St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School fifth grade students learn magic tricks for performances they give throughout the DC metro area in hospitals, retirement communities and pre-schools for children from low-income families. The program is the brainchild of Lower School Director and Assistant Head of School Bob Weiman, whose father performed magic shows for hospitalized children almost 20 years ago after being diagnosed with cancer and retiring from his legal practice.
Weiman has been an amateur magician since he learned his first trick from his father at the age of five. While he enjoys performing close-up magic with objects like cards and coins, his true passion is teaching tricks to young people and having them spread the joy and wonderment of magic to others through community service. In addition to teaching St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School students, Weiman has taught magic to inner-city middle school students in Washington, DC and to lower and middle school students at independent schools in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Last year the fifth grade magicians performed and taught magic to kindergartners and first graders at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School as well as retirement homes, hospitals and schools for children from low-income families. And as they go into the communities where children and adults live in ‘less than ideal’ circumstances, children learn to empathize with those who have so little.
As a profession, magic is typically dominated by men – but not in the “magic” classrooms at St. Stephens & St. Agnes School. The entire class of fifth graders participates with an equal representation of girls and boys. Through the St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School magic program, all fifth graders learn tricks such as putting a needle through a balloon, cutting and restoring a rope, and creating an American flag with separate red, white and blue handkerchiefs. While they learn and practice their magic, they hone their public speaking skills, gain confidence and poise, and channel their creativity.
The children learn professional-level tricks and are required to take the Magician’s Oath – never to reveal the secret behind the magic. Shy, quiet, awkward kids are given a voice as they conjure up confidence. They can impress their parents and friends with the ability to do something no one else can. And they learn the value of practice, practice, practice on tricks that have many steps and can be complex, requiring attention and focus. Only those who can perform flawlessly are allowed to entertain others.
There are two parts to a magician’s performance; the “patter” which is what the magician says to the audience and the “sleight of hand.” The kids usually enhance the “patter” they learn with their own words and come up with their own manner of performing, which is a great way for kids to get creative. Some even adopt stage names and take on a unique stage persona as they become more confident in their performance. "I saw magic become a very important part of my father’s life," said Weiman. "When he learned he had cancer, he had to leave his law practice. It was then that he created a magic show for kids and went around to area hospitals to entertain sick children. Kids who had a lot of terrible things going on in their lives had many happy moments with my father, and he felt really good about helping them. That is when I really began to understand the power of magic to make people’s lives better,” he added.
St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School, based in Alexandria, VA., is a college preparatory Episcopal Church School in the Diocese of Virginia that educates boys and girls from junior kindergarten through grade 12.