Typically at the end of the semester, students are preparing for final exams before they head off for break.

But Jessica Heidrick's Drama 2 class at Newton High School was getting ready for another kind of final project in December.

Every semester, the Drama 2 class gets to choose a service project to perform in the community as the students' culminating assignment.

"A large part of the curriculum in Drama 2 emphasizes how theatre can be used to make the world a better place," Heidrick said. "Each class then chooses where and how they would like to do so and I set it up."

Previous classes have performed children's plays at Cooper Early Education Center or other local schools. Heidrick's class from the past semester, however, altered the playbook.

With 12 students in the Drama 2 class through the semester, the group collectively decided to write its own play and perform it outside of a typical educational setting. The play was about people, caught up in the stress of the holiday season while doing some last-minute gift shopping, who finally learn the true meaning of Christmas (with the help of a "very funny Santa").

For the first time, Heidrick's Drama 2 class took the production outside of the educational setting, performing at the Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital in Wichita on Dec. 4. — with the students taking the idea behind the project to heart.

Junior Madyson Groves was part of the Drama 2 class this past semester that wrote and performed the play. Groves played a single mother working and trying to get home to her son on Christmas Eve. Through the play, Groves came across various customers, sharing some frustrating experiences — but by the end of the play the Christmas spirit was shared, showing that there's good in everything, a message the class looked forward to sharing.

"This year, we decided that we wanted to bring Christmas to those who couldn't come home for Christmas," Groves said. "So, we decided that we would go to the rehab hospital and perform for them."

"I want to firmly instill in my students that theatre is something that can improve the world and people’s lives, even on a local level. The service project for Drama 2 is a great way to show that, and these students made the most of that opportunity," Heidrick said. "There are several students in the class who passionately believe that theatre can be used to make the world better — and that can mean bringing people together, teaching others or even drama therapy. The students came up with the idea for performing at a rehabilitation hospital, since those patients often might not get to leave to be with their families over the holidays. They wanted to spread some joy specifically for them, which I just loved. I am so proud of them They are amazing."

Personally, sharing that joy with the patients at the Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital hit home for Groves, as she has had friends and family facing medical issues that have kept them away for the holidays.

Spreading positivity and making the world a better place are big drivers behind the service project, something Heidrick said was fully achieved, and she hopes empowers her students to continue trying to make an impact through theatre.

Not only was the NHS Drama teacher pleased with the performance, but Heidrick noted it was well-received by patients and staff alike, who were very grateful for the visit of the Drama 2 class.

"One lovely woman said that she doesn’t have any family who visit, so this made her feel really special and she’s extremely grateful that we came," Heidrick said. "The head nurse (whom I coordinated with to perform there) said that the patients’ days there can be very hard, since physical therapy and their schedules are often strict. She said it was good for them to have some cheer and variety in their day from our young students."

"It was very rewarding for us to get to see them smiling and to hear them clapping at the end, that they'd liked what we'd done," Groves added. "They all seemed really happy that we came, so I just think that's really cool that we got to do that for them."

Following the hard work her students put in, Heidrick said she believed it was a fulfilling experience for all involved and encouraged others to think about helping make a positive impact — given the variety of roles out there.

"There are so many ways to get involved and to do things for people locally," Heidrick said. "Theatre has my heart because it has something for everyone to contribute."

"I act and I sing because I want to make the world a better place. There are so many other ways to do that also, but a simple song or a random play, those things can bring such joy to so many people," Groves said. "If someone is wanting to get involved but isn't sure if they should, you absolutely should, because even the little things add up to making the world a better place."