Like so many youth activities impacted by the pandemic, the South Florida Magic School also had to make the difficult adjustment to online instruction.
But presto chango, Boynton Beach magician Alan Kratish made it happen and kept his students engaged and focused on the fun and challenging lessons.
“Magic is something best experienced and learned in-person where you look into the eyes of the students you’re performing the tricks with and watch their emotion,” said Kratish, who established this nationally recognized school and became its “Chief Wizard” back in 2015. “But change was needed during COVID-19, and that’s exactly what I did.”
When the virus started to force all the shutdowns back in March 2020, Kratish’s instruction was going strong as he taught those primarily ages 7 to 12 at the Coconut Creek Community Center.
Now, a little over 24 months and countless virtual classes later, Kratish relocated his residence and his school from northern Broward County to Boynton Beach.
“Even though we were able to keep going online, it really wasn’t the same without that up close and personal attention,” said Kratish, one of the country’s first presenters of the Discover Magic curriculum.
Under the direction of founding partner and CEO Brian South, Discover Magic is the international education program specially designed to teach magic to young people.
“It is an amazing program that you can’t find anywhere else,” said Kratish, who first became interested in magic as a youngster and went on to perform as an adult at birthday parties and trade shows. “It is so much fun and it keeps the kids engaged and interested.”
After moving to Boynton Beach, it didn’t take Kratish long to establish new roots and build not only a local base but also plan upcoming summer camps and clinics at the DeVos-Blum Family YMCA of Boynton Beach and the Sugar Sand Park Community Center in Boca Raton.
But before then, he said he is happy to be busy again with the in-person involvement of his students.
One of those students whose development surpassed all expectations is Parkland’s Grady Jacobs, 14.
Jacobs, who despite being autistic has made incredible strides thanks to his involvement with magic, now serves as an ambassador to the art and has even been selected to serve as a board member in the national Society of Young Magicians.
Not letting his disability stand in the way of his passion to help others be successful, the homeschooled Jacobs now frequently works with other magicians to hone their craft.
He said he loves everything about magic and wants to make it his career.
“There’s lots of cool things you can do with magic and you’re never done,” Jacobs said. “You have to learn a lot of stuff and know all the different (hand) movements. You also have to read a lot and also write scripts and things like that.”
Along with plans to attend a national magic camp in Pennsylnavia in late June/early July, Jacobs also will be working with Kratish as his assistant at the summer camps.
He even has his own website: gradyjacobsmagic.com.
“Grady was one of my first students when we started classes in Coconut Creek in 2017,” Kratish said. “He’s taken way more lessons than anyone else and I’ve watched him grow both literally and figuratively. At the beginning, he hardly spoke at all. You should see how he’s progressed.”
Kratish credits Grady’s mother, Staci Jacobs, with being a guiding light throughout his magical experiences.
“His mom does a great job making opportunities for him, and he has a whole brigade of people instructing him in various subjects,” he said.
Staci said early on Kratish took a leading role in guiding her son on his path to success.
“Alan is great at what he does; he’s a great teacher,” she said. “Alan has opened up doors for Grady that I don’t know would have been possible if it weren’t for him working with Grady all these years.”
Kratish said he marvels at the various levels of interest as his students become more involved in the magic.
“Some kids take one course and others can’t get enough,” he said. “I have some kids who have been with me for four years now. and they’ve completed all the courses I have to offer and still want more like Grady.”
During the pandemic, the visual sessions proved invaluable for Kratish’s students.
For 12-year-old Ollie Luscombe, of Coral Springs, that ability to “log on and have fun” was priceless.
“It was a blessing for Ollie, particularly during the pandemic,” said his mother, Jacqui Luscombe. “He would disappear into his room and do his magic and come out with some tricks to show me. I’m still waiting for him to learn the trick where he can turn a dollar bill into a million dollars (laughing).”
While that’s likely not in the cards, seeing him have fun and look forward to learning new magic tricks is something that makes the experience memorable.
“Ollie is always up for a challenge and wrapping his mind around something new; he has a certain fascination for magic and how it works,” she said.
In the March issue of Costco Connection magazine, there is a cover story about small businesses that survived difficult circumstances. Within that article, the South Florida Magic School is lauded for quickly shifting from live to online classes in a matter of weeks, and bringing fun and magic to many kids during an otherwise cheerless time.
“The pandemic couldn’t stop Alan Kratish, Chief Wizard at the South Florida Magic School,” writes Tim Talevich, editorial director of the Costco Connection, in that issue.
Since 2015, the South Florida Magic School has guided aspiring young wizards through the Discover Magic program, teaching them important life skills including creativity, confidence, planning and practice.
“It’s so gratifying to watch the kids grow and to teach them, and then have the parents give me such wonderful feedback,” he said. “They tell me how much their kids enjoy it and how much they’ve learned.”
Even in the face of tragedy involving one of his students a few years ago, magic brought calmness and comfort.
A dad and his young son looked on as their home was damaged by a fire. Once his son returned for the magic lessons with Kratish, the dad took the him aside and told him that when he and his son were allowed back inside the home to gather up some items, the son without hesitation grabbed only two things: his skateboard and magic materials.
“That made me very emotional that his son would go right for his magic stuff,” Kratish said. “That’s when you know you’re doing the right thing in life.”