Education

Duarte Unified teams up for a district-wide dance craze, TK through 8th grade

Instructor Bridget McNally leads a second grade class in a warmup before teaching them a combination of dance moves.
Instructor Bridget McNally leads a second grade class in a warmup before teaching them a combination of dance moves.
Carla Javier/KPCC

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For the first time, Duarte Unified School District is offering dance workshops to all students, from transitional kindergarten through eighth grade.

Across the district, 83 dance classes are taught each week through the unique partnership with the charter school down the street, California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley, and Elements Dance Space studio. 

"The truth is, there's really no model for the sort of partnership that our school has with the district," CSArts-SGV dean of arts Abbe Levine explained. 

The idea for the program, which is in its first year, came from a task force. Elements Dance Space studio director Tu DeVera had volunteered to teach dance to her son's kindergarten class. She noticed the students wanted to go to school because they looked forward to dance time. 

Not only are the classes fun, they are helping Duarte Unified address one of its major challenges: As KPCC reported last year, the district's enrollment was slipping for over a decade. 

"We have families that normally would opt out of our school districts," Maxwell Elementary principal Dr. Kelly Lawson explained. "And now, they're opting to come in so their kids can be exposed to dance at early levels."

Lawson says that can help increase enrollment, allowing families to see what else Duarte schools offer. For example, her school is an International Baccalaureate school, and all students receive Mandarin instruction.

The partnership also benefits CSArts.  If students fall in love with dance, they could eventually apply to California School of the Arts.

"As they matriculate, they may possibly say, 'You know what? This is something I want to do, and I'm going to apply to the California School of the Arts," Duarte USD K-8 arts coordinator Erin Fish said. "It just provides them that opportunity that they may not have ever known was an option for them."

Maxwell's principal, Dr. Lawson, says the program isn't just for the benefit of district and the charter school. In fact, she says, students and families benefit the most.

"Regardless of your academic level, whether you're a special needs student or an English learner, it provides an opportunity for all students to get equal access [to dance instruction]," Lawson said. 

Maxwell Elementary second graders Tiffany Tran, Abigail Estrada, Ava Cassandra Azradon, and Jonathan Guerrero strike a pose after dance class.
Maxwell Elementary second graders Tiffany Tran, Abigail Estrada, Ava Cassandra Azradon, and Jonathan Guerrero strike a pose after dance class.
Carla Javier/KPCC

Instructor Bridget McNally says she can see the students' improvement in their movement and in their interpersonal skills.

"We are learning now ... to perform for each other in groups, and to really support each other and not allow the presence of someone sitting in front of them to make them nervous, shy away, or feel judged," McNally explained.

Second grader Ava Cassandra Azradon says she looks forward to the dance classes, which she takes twice a week.

"When we're in our classrooms, I always sit, and when I go to dance class, I feel so active," she explained. 

"It's fun and I want to dance all the time," Azradon added. "I keep dancing in the regular school day."