Partnership with Kroc Center enriches academic program
In the Fireside room at the Salvation Army Kroc Center, about 20 minutes into a ballet class, Taryn Ortega-Furgeson from the Grand Rapids Ballet School was giving instructions to Kim Monje’s fourth and fifth grade students from nearby Brookside Elementary.
The students, and Ortega-Furgeson, were there as part of the Brookside FAME (Fine Arts Music and Expression) program, a partnership between the school and the center now in its second year.
Ortega-Furgeson was talking about the performance the students will be part of at the Kroc Center on Dec. 17 and giving them some stage logistics.
“This is the point where the second group is coming on stage, so we need to be out of their way,” she said as she surveyed the group. “Cool, cool?” In unison, 27 voices enthusiastically responded: “Cool, cool.”
Ortega-Furgeson smiled and then led the students through what it would look like to be on the stage and then exit. As she did, her colleague Attila Mosolygo, director of the Ballet School, looked on, lending a hand here and there as needed.
After the session, Mosolygo talked about the FAME program and the benefits of ballet for his young charges.
“The lessons they learn go beyond ballet and dance in general,” he said. “The importance of movement is a great habit to teach young students. It is dance, and they don’t think of it as exercise. It is fun, and it also helps them focus better in the classroom.”
‘Search Around and Look for Food’
Fifth grader Averyion Santos echoed those remarks. “I like how we get to move,” he said with a small smile on his face. “It’s fast, and I like the steps we get to do.”
When asked about his favorite part of the dance, he hesitated for a moment, thinking through what they had learned thus far. “I have to say the bow and arrow part,” he concluded at last. “You have to search around and look for food.”
For Averyion, who filled his dance moves with an intense concentration and a big smile, the two hours each week at the Salvation Army Kroc Center are a great fit. “I like singing and dancing and drawing,” he said. “Basically, everything we do at the Kroc Center is what I like to do.”
Fellow fifth graders Onike Kahindo and Isziah Walker were equally enthusiastic.
Onike also liked the bow and arrow move, but really, she said, “I just like to move.” Isziah, who displayed a pair of nimble feet, was a little more pragmatic. “I like it,” he said of the dancing. “It strengthens my legs and stuff so I can do better at sports.”
Sessions Enhance Classroom Teaching
Monje, their teacher, was part of the inaugural FAME program last spring which offered bucket drumming, mural painting and a ballet class and saw an average of 90 fourth and fifth grade students weekly. This year, third grade was added, and participation is now almost 160 students.
She thoroughly enjoys both the time at the Kroc Center and the ways in which the sessions enhance her teaching.
“The jazz portion gives them an opportunity to learn about great jazz musicians as well as practicing their listening skills,” she said. “In the art and ballet portions, students must be able to listen to and follow multi-step directions. During the ballet time, students are using math skills without even being aware they are using them.”
Brookside principal Melissa Wozniak is equally enthusiastic about FAME. She’s also grateful to her backyard neighbor for making it — and a variety of other options — available to her students.
“We have been able to partner to provide after-school programming, mentoring, swim lessons and now this new additional fine arts programming,” she said.
The program, noted Alyson Rodriguez, fine arts supervisor for the Kroc Center, is currently paid for by a grant from The Salvation Army to promote and increase fine arts exposure.
“Once the grant is finished,” she added, “we are hoping the community will continue to support the FAME initiative.”
Ballet, Clay and Jazz
FAME sees students walk to the Center, just west of the school at 2500 S. Division Ave., for six weeks and rotate through 35- to 40-minute fine arts classes. Students work toward the Dec. 17 end-of-session performance, as well as a gallery showing in conjunction with their school showcase.
This fall, ballet is one of three sessions for the five Brookside classrooms of third, fourth and fifth graders. The other two are clay and jazz, and students in Monje’s class were equally attentive in those two sessions.
Indeed, after the major movements of ballet, things slowed down a little – but not completely – during the clay session, led by Rodriguez, who said the program is one of the favorite parts of her job. This time the class was seated, but they were busy with their hands, first slamming the clay down and then beginning to mold it.
The slamming part, which many of the students did with vigor, is called wedging, Rodriquez said, and it’s one of the most important steps of working with clay.
“It helps to get the air bubbles out,” she said. “If there are air bubbles in the clay it can explode in the kiln during firing, and that can damage their project and others.”