Grace Fellowship Urban Pastor Bob Tome works a sound board with Ferguson K-8 eighth-grader Nity Salinas Gaitar during a partial performance of
Grace Fellowship Urban Pastor Bob Tome works a sound board with Ferguson K-8 eighth-grader Nity Salinas Gaitar during a partial performance of "Seussical Jr." at the school Thursday. The purpose of the preview was to showcase the talents of the new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) Academy at the school. The North Codorus Township church partnered with the public school system to create the program. Public performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. May 9-10 at York High. BILL KALINA-bkalina@yorkdispatch.com

Rayven Dickson has been singing since she could talk.

But it wasn't until Thursday that the 11-year-old got her first chance to work those vocal cords on stage.

Her audience couldn't possibly have known.

Dickson, no taller than the microphone, blasted a beyond-her-years voice into the auditorium of Ferguson K-8, where dozens of students and teachers had gathered for a sneak-peek performance.

"It felt amazing," she said.

Dickson and a group of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders have spent months practicing for their Friday, May 9, and Saturday, May 10, performances of "Seussical Jr."

How it happened: After years of cuts to extracurricular opportunities for York City School District students, this is one way to bring the arts back, said Bob Tome, a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church.

Tome, one of several volunteers helping to guide the production, said he approached district officials about finding a way to harness the talents of district kids.

"We want to see the school district thrive," Tome said. "A lot of these kids come from tough backgrounds. This is an outlet for them."

About 50 kids are involved in the production. They're doing everything from costume design to sound work, concessions and advertising.

The cast and crew are part of the district's STEM program — which stands for science, technology, engineering and math. With the addition of the arts component, the program is now being called STEAM.

The results: Tome said teachers have reported improved grades and behavior among the "Seussical" kids since they began working on the show in the fall.

"There's so much talent," said Denise Blackwell, the principal at Ferguson. "If we didn't have this going on, we'd never know about it."

This is the first time district students of middle-school age have been given a chance to put on a show, Blackwell said.

For 14-year-old Le-Quient Lewis II, the musical is the first time he'll perform for a large audience. Thanks to the recommendation of a teacher, Le-Quient snagged the lead role as the Cat in the Hat.

Wearing a tall red-and-white striped hat, he uses his deep voice to guide the show's opening number.

"I listened to music before I could crawl," he said.

Organizers are hoping for two sold-out shows in the William Penn Senior High School auditorium, 101 W. College Ave. Each performance is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Tickets are $5 each and can be purchased in advance or at the door. All of the money raised will fund next year's production, Tome said.

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.