When Mike Mazzon saw "Honk Jr." performed at Dennison University last year, he recognized that the message of the musical was important for this year's fifth-grade students at Alcott Elementary to hear.

When Mike Mazzon saw "Honk Jr." performed at Dennison University last year, he recognized that the message of the musical was important for this year's fifth-grade students at Alcott Elementary to hear.

Mazzon said he has worked each year since the building opened six years ago to help his students put on a play before the end of the year, but May 22 was the first time they tried a musical.

"They have done an incredible job," he said of the 65 to 70 students involved in the production.

Confessing to exhaustion, Mazzon said, it was worth the effort.

The musical is a modern day version of Hans Christian Andersen's tale of "The Ugly Duckling."

"It is a reminder of all the things we hope kids learn," Mazzon said.

Andrew Ebner played the role of the ugly duckling, while Imani Steele played his mother, Ida.

No matter what they think of themselves or others think about them, Mazzon said, children need to know it is OK if they are awkward or different.

"Someone out there is going to love you, warts and all," he said. "The frog sings that one to the ugly duckling. It is a very emotional piece."

Initially, Mazzon said he feared the theme of the musical might be over the heads of his students.

"I explained it all to them first," he said. "When they read through it, they were capturing it."

For three months, Mazzon pushed his students fast and hard as they learned their lines and the music, figured out where to stand and how to bring the set to life.

"I told them 'You can't just perform this show. You have to feel it and sense it because the message is so strong,'" he said.

The day before the two performances, Mazzon was convinced his students were sensing more and more what the show was really all about. He used the production as a teaching tool in the classroom.

"I would say, 'Look what happened today in class or on the playground,'" he said. "Someone with a main part might say something really nasty to someone else; I would ask, 'Do you realize what you did in relationship to what you are going to say on stage?'"

The comment made the students stop and think, he said.

"Kids' feelings are hurt so easily," he said. "Little things affect you for the rest of your life. We all have those scars."

As their teacher, he said he is much like a parent in not wanting his students to experience pain.

"In real life, there are bumps along the road and we grow from it," he said. "Elementary is our last shot at these kids. Once they are in middle school, they go into what a friend of mine calls 'pre-people stage.' They are all over the place. If we don't give them some last foundational message, kick, or something in whatever time it is they can draw from, then who knows? You would be amazed at how much they do remember back to elementary."

Mazzon said he hopes his students will be able to recall a noun and verb once they move up the educational ladder, but he has no doubt they have memorized and felt lines from "Honk Jr." that will be with them for years to come.

"They are making a memory that is lasting, at least I hope," he said.

Now that the musical is behind them, Mazzon said, the pressure is off and they should have a calm ending to the school year.

As he sends them off to middle school, he hopes they remember something the message from the musical next year when they see someone being picked on.