Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jan 2005
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Advertiser Co.
Note: Letters from the newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Kirsten J. Barnes
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Each Wednesday, 58 girls from E.D. Nixon and T.S. Morris elementary schools 
learn to develop the very modern traits of self-esteem and self-control 
using an art form that is more than 500 years old -- classical ballet.

The girls are part of a program held at Loveless Academic Magnet Program 
through the Academy of Performing Arts and sponsored by Strategies to 
Elevate People, an organization made up of area missions that minister to 
residents in the inner city.

Laronnda Turner, 8, a second-grader at T.S. Morris, is in her first year of 
the program, which began in 1997.

"I learned to do plie and soutenue," Laronnda said, referring to bending 
and turning movements.

The purpose of the program is to provide personal development opportunities 
for at-risk children in Montgomery that involve family participation.

Because the girls perform in recitals, one of which is held in conjunction 
with the Montgomery Ballet at Troy University's Davis Theatre for the 
Performing Arts, the program allows family and friends an opportunity to 
become involved and show support.

"We try to get the whole family involved," said Susan Byars, administrative 
assistant with STEP.

The students are divided into four classes -- two from T.S. Morris and two 
from E.D. Nixon -- and are instructed by Holle Smith of the Montgomery 
Ballet, and Jennifer Jones, a dancer with the same ballet company.

"It's rewarding for me because this may be the only opportunity that some 
of these children will have to take ballet," said Smith, who began taking 
lessons at age 6.

Most of the students are in their first year of the program, but some 
continue throughout their elementary careers.

Alexus Gilchrist, 7, a second-grader at T.S. Morris, is in her second year.

"I like the teachers," Alexus said. "They're nice."

In addition to dance, the girls are taught an anti-drug curriculum because 
some of their funding comes from a Safe and Drug-Free Schools grant from 
the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

"We've been trying to teach them about taking care of their bodies," Jones 
said. "The older ones respond to that especially well. We teach them that 
as dancers, they are, in fact, athletes, so they have to take care of their 

On Wednesday, the girls participated in an activity that taught them the 
dangers of the gateway drugs alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.

Last summer, because of a grant from the Working Woman's Home Association, 
15 girls were given the opportunity to practice ballet at the Montgomery 

"Some of the older girls took lessons for a month," Byars said.

The organization made another contribution this year, which could provide 
the same opportunity this summer.

The girls learn discipline through dance and the dedication it requires to 
perform with accuracy.

"You get to do splits and all kinds of things," said Kurtisha Caldwell, 9, 
a third-grader at T.S. Morris.
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