When the Columbia County-based Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (BTE) visited a hospital for children earlier this year with its traveling theater group, one particular reaction to the live performance that day summed up the success story that the program has become.

A young spectator who arrived wearing a medical mask due to an illness, said nothing and made little to no eye contact, but clearly was touched. By show’s end, she had taken off the mask to reveal a wide smile as she clapped and sought out a photo with the actors.

“That’s the goal right there,” said Paula Henry, BTE’s school programs director. “We want to have that kind of impact on children.”

And so they have. An estimated 1.2 million children have experienced BTE’s Theatre in the Classroom program since its inception in 1978.

It’s one of the many programs and organizations that have benefited from the $2 million donated annually to nonprofit groups by the PPL Foundation to support education programs and opportunities and to help build sustainable communities.

In-school performances that have touched on topics ranging from folklore, the first transcontinental railroad and inventions to local coal mining patches, women’s suffrage and the Underground Railroad have been a part of BTE since the organization’s inception.

Each year, the group develops an original 45-minute play that it puts on in schools across the country. On its most recent tour, it did 82 performances at 66 locations in four states, reaching about 14,000 children over three months.

The next tour, which runs from March to May 2019, is entitled “Star Tours: Explore the Mysteries of the Universe.”

In addition to delivering entertainment, the program also provides the first exposure that some children have to live drama. BTE leaders say that type of exposure has been proven to help improve overall scholastic achievement.

“I’m completely in awe whenever I go to one of these shows,” said Jon White-Spunner, the managing director at BTE. “It’s just great to watch the kids as they see the performance. You can see their minds working and taking in what’s happening.”

Tracie Witter, a PPL regional affairs director, was similarly impressed after taking in a performance earlier this year.

“The level of interaction and engagement was really impressive,” Witter said. “Seeing how these young people respond to these performances really shows the effect this program is having. We’re proud to help make this program possible.”

For more information on BTE and its Theatre in the Classroom program, visit www.bte.org.

To request a Theatre in the Classroom performance, contact Paula Henry at phenry@bte.org or (570) 458-4075.