Fifth-grader, her hands shine onstage

Kathy Plonka photo

Sorensen Magnet School of the Arts and Humanities fifth-grader Emma McLaughlin-Orton signed a glow-in-the-dark version of Katy Perry’s song “Firework” during a recent performance at the school in Coeur d’Alene.

January 24, 2013 - Updated: 2:56 p.m.

Fifth-grader Emma McLaughlin-Orton took her spot on center stage. As the music to Katy Perry’s “Firework” began, she started signing the words with white-gloved hands; she moved her body to the music and mouthed the words.

Sorensen Magnet School students carrying juggling pins surrounded her and the lights went down. The darkness set off her glowing gloves and the glow-in-the-dark pins, resembling fireworks in the sky.

The performance coordinated at the Coeur d’Alene elementary school, an arts and humanities magnet school, was intended to showcase student jugglers, but McLaughlin-Orton’s hands stole the show.

Three times per year the school has artists in residence. To wrap up a week with two world-class jugglers, the students were asked to come up with an act.

“I’d seen Emma sign to a Justin Bieber song at a coffeehouse jam, and it was so powerful and passionate,” said her teacher, Katie Palmer. “I asked her to choose a song for the performance.”

When Emma chose “Firework,” the glow-in-the-dark juggling pins seemed like a good fit.

“I thought how cool it would be to sign that song,” Emma said. “It inspired me.”

The performance was choreographed and practiced in the course of two days, Palmer said. “It was a real whirlwind.”

Emma has been deaf since birth and has cochlear implants, but she signs regularly. Palmer carves out time for the 10-year-old to teach her classmates sign language.

The magnet school has an arts and humanities block on Monday through Wednesday from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Among students’ options are juggling, marimba, drumming, improvisation, chess, pottery and vocals. If a student finds they are particularly talented in an area or enjoy a topic, they can go into more depth.

Emma has attended the school since kindergarten. Palmer, who is also the drama teacher, said the fifth-grader excels in theater.

“I found out juggling wasn’t my type of something to do,” Emma said. “I like drumming. I love violin. My favorite is cricket. I’m actually pretty good at improv.”

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