Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell From left, Nilda Yocbamaca, 8, Jennifer Xiloj, 9, Hellen Gomez, 10, and Elida Aguilar, 9, practice ballet steps at the St. Andrews Center during their first week of the new arts academy, an after-school program where they introduce children to visual and performing arts.
As about a dozen pairs of little feet prance around to the sound of classical music in the St. Andrews Center, the only thing missing is pink ballerina shoes.
In an adjacent room, a group of boys concentrates on drawing.
The 30 elementary students — most of whom are Hispanic— are in the first St. Andrews Center Arts Academy, an afterschool program where they learn about everything from theater and the environment to ballet and drawing.
The main goal of the program, director Marisol Jimenez said, is to “introduce kids to as many things as possible so they can expand their world and dream bigger and let them have a taste of what’s out there.”
All of the participating students attend East Side Elementary School. There is a waiting list of 25, Ms. Jimenez said.
Fourth-grader Jakia Hicks said she “didn’t think I was going to do anything special” in ballet class. “But I learned I can do anything I want if I try.”
Teaching ballet to the children mostly is a process of putting the dance in a context they could understand, said Laurel Shastri, a ballet instructor at the center and associate director of Ballet Tennessee.
“Most of the girls seem to have heard of ballet, but they didn’t know what it is; the same with boys,” she said. “It’s just nice for them to be able to tap into the arts and movement, to dance as a way of expressing themselves and learn the discipline.”
Chattanooga native and drawing instructor Jerry Allen wants to use his class to show the children that they have options in life.
“I grew up here and didn’t have anyone who was an artist who I could talk to, who could give me some information about art,” the 40-year-old portrait artist said. “That’s something I want to get across to them.”
Getting enough money to support the classes and help get students to the center on Union Avenue has been the greatest challenge, Mrs. Jimenez said.
“People are wonderful, and we can get people to donate time but, in the end, if you want a program to be reliable, you really need to pay people, and funding transportation is our major cost,” she said.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...