Every spring, Guilford County fourth graders have the option to submit a story to the “Barbara Ann Peters Write Your Own Opera” contest. 

The winning piece is transformed into a script and lyrics, set to music by a professional composer, and performed at the Carolina Theatre.  

The latest winner is Austin Hayes. 

“I've heard like people singing in operas, but I've never actually been to one before," Hayes said. "And especially not have one that's written by me.”

Her story is called “Be You!” It’s about a girl who struggles with her identity as she enters middle school. 

“The message I hope to share is, it doesn't matter what's going on in the world, the main thing that you need to focus on is just to be yourself," she said. "Because if you're not yourself, like in the story, you're not going to feel good because you don't feel confident with who you are.”

That’s a message her mom, Jessica, says she’s tried to instill in both of her daughters. 

“And so for her to take that and write a story about it, and now we get to see it in live action is just amazing," she said.  

Hayes’ music teacher, Winnona Roshan, says she’s been using her story in class for lessons about opera. Since they don’t know what the music is going to sound like yet, Roshan has her students use their imaginations. 

“If you were the composer, where would you put the aria where somebody is expressing their emotion in their song? And what parts would be the recitative? That's the singing conversation," Roshan said. "And it was neat to hear them say, ‘Oh, I think it's going to be in this part because she's shy, and she's nervous about school.’”

Roshan says she hopes this experience helps Hayes and other kids trust in their voices and know their stories matter.  

“That is a profound thing to feel," Roshan said. "And not only for her, but all of the kids in Guilford County schools to say, ‘Hey, there's a kid my age who wrote that, and now look at it here. And I can do that.’”

The opera will premiere at the Carolina Theatre on Feb. 5. 

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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