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  Note: Local juggler Kyle Peterson was feted with a fun feature article in his hometown paper. Kyle has been a regular Pratt juggler for at least two years and a semi-regular Carminer, who now comes to both every week. We featured another article about Kyle this past July.

CHS Alum Juggles His Way to the Top
By Katherine Paster, Managing Editor

November 25, 2008

MAPLEWOOD, NJ - This is the second in a series of articles on Columbia High School alumni documenting the recent accomplishments of noteworthy individuals who came from the South Orange-Maplewood school district.

Juggling, plate spinning, stilt-walking and acrobatics are not skills typically taught in school curriculums, but one Columbia High School alum is using the unique lessons of circus performing to teach youths one of life's most valuable lessons anything is possible with a little hard work.

When Kyle Petersen, Columbia High School Class of 2003, first tried his hand at juggling in high school, he never imagined that, years down the road, he would become the infamous juggler for the Brooklyn Cyclones, where the multi-talented circus performer has become a fan-favorite of the minor league baseball team's "family."  - Kyle PetersonPhoto: Columbia High School alum Kyle Petersen performs for a crowd of baseball fans during a Brooklyn Cyclone's game, where the multi-talented circus performer does everything, from juggling and unicycling to plate spinning.

While searching for a summer job during his Junior year at New York University, Petersen, who credits fellow Columbia alum Thomas Shippy for teaching him to juggle, stumbled on to a gig to perform at Brooklyn Cyclone games, a job which would ultimately send Petersen blazing down the road to success in the fields of entertainment and education.

Performing for anywhere between 7,000 to 9,000 baseball fans in the Cyclone stadium, Petersen calls the crowd "one of the toughest audiences you'll ever face." Luckily, the red-haired juggler and unicyclist was a smash-hit with the crowd.

"I made a name for myself very quickly," recalled Petersen, whose unique talents include juggling and plate spinning while riding a unicycle through the stadium stands. "By the time the first season was over, I had become 'the guy' that baseball fans knew from the games."

While the self-proclaimed clown embarked on his professional juggling career, Petersen also pursued a passion first discovered in the classrooms of Columbia High teachers John Campbell, James Cotter and John DeVita.

This passion was education.

"Mr. Campbell made me want to be a teacher because he was teaching something he truly loved and I knew, by watching him, that you could actually make a living on your passions," said Petersen.

"He loved kids and he loved teaching kids, and that translates into the makings of a great educator."

During his senior year at New York University, Petersen interned in the public school system in Brooklyn, where he worked for six months as a teachers assistant and a tutor at P.S. 287.

After proving to have a knack with kids, Petersen was asked to stay on for the full year as a homeroom teacher for high school juniors who were struggling in school a challenge which showed Petersen he was able to relate to kids from all walks of life.

"I was well-versed enough in all subjects to tutor the kids in problem areas and help to get them on track," said Petersen. "What I really love about high school kids is that I can relate to them, since I remember being there."

After budgetary restraints left the internship program without funding, Petersen volunteered to finish the school year without pay out of loyalty to his students.

"I felt an obligation to them and I was attached to it," said Petersen.

In 2008, Petersen was given the opportunity to fuse his love of the circus with his love of teaching when he was hired by the National Circus Project, an organization that brings week-long circus performance workshops to elementary schools.

At the beginning of each project, Peterson and his team of performers put on a circus show for the students and then conducted workshops throughout the week, teaching the students how to juggle, spin plates, use devil sticks, walk on stilts and perform acrobatics.

By the end of each week, a target group of older students were selected, based on their abilities, and trained to perform a circus act before their peers, teachers and parents.

"To whip a group of fourth-graders into a circus show is something else," said Petersen. "You take a student who thinks they have no talent and teach them skills that the general public sees as impossible."

According to Petersen, the priceless lesson kids take away from the act is the belief that nothing is impossible with a little hard work.

"When you teach a kid to balance a spinning plate on their chin on a 15-foot pole in front of everyone they know, that's an incredible success that a kid will be able to carry with them," said Petersen, noting the importance of showing students that nothing is impossible. "Showing a kid it's possible to do a thing that they didn't think they could do it is important."

With plans to continue juggling with the Cyclones as long as they keep asking him back, Petersen is about to embark on his next venture graduate school.

Petersen was recently accepted to the Brooklyn College master's degree program, where he will pursue a degree in Spanish, which he hopes will bring him one step closer to becoming a teacher.

Looking back on his success, Petersen attributes his accomplishments to his mother, whose support enabled him to believe there was nothing he couldn't do.

"My mother is someone who has always supported everything I have ever done to an insane degree," he said.

While some mothers might have been hesitant to support their child's goals of being a circus performer, Petersen's mother bought him his first set of juggling balls.

"My mother's greatest strength is the amount of strength she has given to her sons," said Petersen, who taught his brother, Harry, to ride a unicycle.

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