Norland Middle School teacher helps cast young students in local film, ‘Moonlight’

Tanisha Cidel, right, teaches students in the theater magnet program at Norland Middle School.
Tanisha Cidel, right, teaches students in the theater magnet program at Norland Middle School. For the Miami Herald

For Norland Middle teacher Tanisha Cidel, the school’s theater program helped her grow professionally, and helped her create a path for the next generation of artists.

“The arts have always been what I’ve done,” said Cidel, who teaches in the school’s theater magnet program. “I could not think of anything else I would rather do in life. I actually started here at Norland Middle School in the magnet program as a junior high student.”

Cidel recently helped some of students be cast in the locally made film “Moonlight,” about a young Miami man growing up poor, black and gay.

“It felt wonderful [being in the film] because it’s a story that’s never been told and the cast, they were good people,” said Jaden Piner, a seventh-grader who played young Kevin in the film.

Jaden, 13, says he’s already planning his future: “I would like to be a full-time actor and if that doesn’t work, I would like to be a firefighter.”

Jamal Guerrier, also a seventh-grader, who played a bully in the film, said he pulled from personal experiences for his character: He himself has been bullied.

“The people who bullied me gave me an idea of what to do in the film,” said Jamal, 12.

Some of Cidel’s other students were extras in “Moonlight,” which they describe as a learning experience, as well.

“It was very fun and I got to meet the director,” said Nyomi Ramjohn, 13, an eighth-grader who appeared as an extra. “It was just a good experience to have.”

Cidel, a native Miamian who attended New World School of the Arts, Florida A&M University and Florida International University, said she is proud to teach students in the very place where she grew up.

“It just makes it all an amazing journey for me to be able to deposit anything that I have,” the 16-year teaching veteran said. “With the gifts that have been given to me by the teachers who were here [when I was a student], I am now giving back. I absolutely love it every single day. The most important thing is that we put Norland Middle School on the map because it’s a school that has this wonderful program here and we are doing wonderful things.”

As a theater teacher, Cidel has helped many students reach their goals, even if they don’t become actors.

“There are so many things that the performing arts can do for students,” said Cidel, who also has a small role in “Moonlight.” “And that’s my main goal, to get them a scholarship to college. Miami Gardens, I think they get the bad rap all the time and people don’t see the beautiful light that comes out of this wonderful place.”