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Illusionist teaches students ‘magic’ of self-esteem

TULALIP — Marysville and Tulalip students were treated to a unique demonstration of “real magic” April 29, when illusionist Brad Barton spoke to three school audiences about the importance of respecting themselves and others, by refraining from substance abuse and preventing bullying.

Rhonda Moen, an intervention specialist with Marysville Middle School, heard about Barton from her high school-age children, who watched him perform for a statewide Future Business Leaders of America meeting in Spokane.

Their enthusiasm for his program persuaded her to contact Barton, who just happened to be meeting with state Attorney General Rob McKenna in Olympia April 30. The Tulalip Tribes wound up paying $2,200 for Barton to speak to students at Totem Middle School, Marysville Middle School and Tulalip Elementary April 29, and the Tulalip Resort Hotel provided him with a free room for the night.

Barton used flashy stage illusions and a comic, friendly personality to deliver a serious message. Barton spoke of his own youth, as a short, skinny kid with learning disabilities, poor grades and a less-than-ideal home-life, and pointed out the ways in which he was able to perform well in school, discover hidden talents he hadn’t realized he had, and bolster his self-esteem in the process.

The students at Tulalip Elementary gasped and cheered as Barton made sparks with his magic wand, spun playing cards so fast that they seemed to hover, and produced glowing dots of light on his fingertips, but he emphasized that “real magic” comes from doing good things for themselves and others. As a child, his mother taught him to leave food anonymously at the front door of an elderly couple in need, and even as an adult, he became misty-eyed as he recalled watching the gratitude of the old woman who opened the door and saw food sitting in front of her.

“It gives you a real warm feeling in your heart,” Barton said. “And it’s contagious, so you can pass it on to others.”

Barton cited picking up trash on school grounds as an example of doing good that can become infectious, if enough people do it. He also described books as magical, since “each book can take you to a different place and time,” and in spite of his own dyslexia, he told the students that he always takes time to read for fun.

Barton then revealed to the students the three secrets to “real magic,” which he promised them that their teachers wouldn’t mind if they practiced in class. The first step was to respect themselves and their bodies, which he noted includes eating a balanced diet, getting exercise, avoiding junk food and abstaining from alcohol or drugs. The second step was, “Be nice to everybody, even if they’re not nice to you.” Barton pointed out that “it’s easy to be nice to nice people,” but asserted that it’s worth the effort to be nice to “mean people,” especially since “all of us are mean people, every once in a while.” The third step was to believe in themselves.

“I was born a bit too early, and I was raised the middle of nine kids,” Barton said. “When I started school, the other kids would say and do mean things, and when I came home my dad would say and do mean things. I didn’t believe in myself at all.”

With the help of teachers and coaches, Barton not only improved his academic performance, but also went on to become an honors graduate, an NCAA All-American and a 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier.

“Your teachers are magic, too,” Barton said, flipping through a book whose blank pages appeared to fill with colorful pictures. “You come to school like blank books, and they fill you with knowledge. You may be small now, but if you keep these promises to yourselves, you can go on to do great big huge things.”

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