NORTHFIELD CENTER — The children in Terri Hochberg's third-grade class sat in a circle, listening intently as Caitlin Miller of Kids Love Musicals!, a program of The Musical Theatre Project, talked about villains and their purpose in a story.

"So, what do you think villains try to do?" she asked the students.

"Take over the world," one student responded.

"I can think of something worse," said another boy. "Take over five universes."

"Take over the Milky Way," a third student suggested.

From there, Miller told the class they were all going to be pirates, following one of the most notorious fictional pirates known: Captain Hook. The students learned a song and practiced simple choreography, wearing pirate bandanas. At the end, the students sat down, and Miller and the children talked about why the pirates followed Captain Hook, and eventually discussed what makes a good leader.

"He leads by fear and makes people do things," one little girl said. "He's not a good leader."

This led to a discussion why Peter Pan could be considered the better leader, and why he was afraid to grow up.

The staff of Kids Love Musicals! came to Northfield Elementary School the week of Sept. 16 to lead first- through third-grade classes through several one-hour sessions of song, dance and dialogue. Third graders learned through "Peter Pan," while second graders through "Wizard of Oz" and first graders through "Cinderella"

Northfield Elementary Principal Marc Kaminicki said the program "addresses new socio-emotional standards as developed by the Ohio Department of Education curriculum." The artists in residents taught 10 different classes.

"Last year, we ran a pilot program with one second-grade class through the KLM 'intergenerational' program," Kaminicki said. "Our second graders visited a senior center for three consecutive weeks and incorporated theater games and activities with some elderly individuals. It was a beautiful experience watching 8-year-old sharing stories and motivating the adults to participate."

Jodi Kirk, director of active learning with The Musical Theater Project, said that the organization "is heading into its 20th year" in bringing its program into the school.

"Our emphasis is getting kids to explore and experience musical theater, to connect with it without performing," Kirk said. "It's totally student-centered. Whatever they have to bring to the table, we fold it into whatever the musical is. I think we really focus on social and emotional lessons, but the exposure to musicals, it grows your soul."

Kirk said that music and art were "a powerful tool to learn about yourselves," and provided an opportunity for those who "may not shine academically to find a moment to shine."

Hochberg said her class learned about the different parts of musical theater, as well as other critical lessons.

"I think they covered some really deep topics without the kids realizing," Hochberg said.

For information on The Musical Theater Project, which is based in Independence, visit www.musicaltheaterproject.org.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, ahelms@recordpub.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC