SAN ANTONIO — When you first set foot into the gymnasium of Sky Harbour Elementary, it's like you just walked into Willy Wonka land with colors and decor covering the floor, walls and ceilings, as far as the eye can see.
I soon learned that Mr. Carl Dickerson is the creative brain behind it all.
"I started a drama team with second graders. We did the Wizard of Oz," Mr. Carl Dickerson said.
From Annie, Aladdin, to Lion King and Shrek, year after year, Dickerson has done much more than just entertain the school.
"I had integrated video into our show and smoke machines. and something the kids hadn't been exposed to," Dickerson said, "They didn't have an outlet to show their talent. We didn't have cheerleading or anything and I kind of started the team."
He started Dolphin Drama Club 16 years ago and today it's still shining bright.
"I don't like to be in the spotlight. but I like to put other people in the spotlight."
As a child, he had a love for the arts, but he chose the other side of the lens.
"I was a kid with a video camera that went around and recorded and made my own movies."
There isn't a kid at Sky Harbour that hasn't walked through his fine arts classroom.
From pre-k to 5th grade, every child has a role, and Dickerson says it's all about making that connection.
"A lot of our kids don't get the opportunities to go out and take acting classes or singing classes and I'm hoping drama gives that to them."
5th graders Nathan Viramontas and Stevan Rocha have been stars in his plays.
"Because of him, my dancing and vocals have definitely improved," Nathan said, "you feel like you get exposure. and you get to just be yourself on stage and when I perform. I feel like I found my place in musical theater."
As we walked down the hallway, Dickerson showed me all the plays he's produced over the years.
One of them, in particular, stood out, an old picture of a little Princess Jasmine.
"This is Paulina Chavez," Dickerson pointed to the frame.
Paulina is now the star of her own Netflix show, The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia, produced by familiar names like Mario Lopez.
The young actress has stayed true to her roots. She's come back for the man who once helped her find her special talents.
"Something important for our kids to see. Making it big. She's the first one to make it big here from Sky Harbour. hoping it inspires more kids.
Not only does Paulina return to her childhood school to help with Dickerson's classes, but she's also brought him to LaLa Land to experience some of that Hollywood magic.
Celebrities like Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, John Leguizamo and Melissa Joan Hart have even taken the time to record greetings specially made for Dickerson's students.
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"You can always catch me after a broadway show of going and picking up all the playbills," Dickerson said, "I bring stacks and stacks of playbills because I want my students to experience that as well."
And once every year, Dickerson even takes the children on a field trip to the Majestic Theatre for a Broadway show. This year they're planning to see Aladdin.
"Seeing the kids open up and blossom is what really drives me," Dickerson said, "seeing someone who's really shy, really quiet and then by the end of the year they're in front of the spotlight. Shining. Singing."
Beyond performing, Nathan says the most important lesson he's learned from Mr. Dickerson is about truly believing in yourself.
"Don't be super hard on yourself or don't think you have to be perfect because all that really matters is that you try."
Mr. Dickerson says it takes a community to pull it all together. Parents, staff, current and former students, all pitch in to help make the props, costumes and everything possible to bring their plays to life.
You can catch their next play, A Midsummer Night's Dream on November 20th.
If you'd like to donate costumes or props, you can contact Dickerson at firstname.lastname@example.org