MODESTO -- Everett Elementary third-graders danced nouns and verbs, practiced "parallel" and, above all, listened during a 45-minute session that few schools enjoy. Today, their parents start the cookie dough sale to help pay for it.
The Modesto school incorporates dance lessons into each week, a tradition that pays off in English and math lessons as much as in rhythm and grace, said Principal Deborah Grochau.
The Juline Foundation for Children and the Everett PTA underwrite the program that, for eight years, has brought dance teacher Kirsten Raven Asturi to campus.
PTA President Amy Crabtree said her group does fund raising for several arts programs, assemblies and field trips for the school.
"We feel it's important to give these kids the opportunity to have dance class," Crabtree said.
Watching her third-grader, Grace, stretch a pointed toe out, then in, in tempo with an upbeat pop song, Crabtree said she sees children following directions better because of dance classes.
"I think it makes us a unique school," she said.
Grochau agreed. "For the dance moves, they need self-discipline, and self-discipline is transferred into their studies," she said as students crossed the room, stopping, starting and turning in near-unison.
"Dance is cool here," the principal said even for the boys, she added with a wry grin.
Teachers say dance helps with basic study skills, including memory, community building and behavior management. Parents like how it builds coordination and confidence.
Grochau sees improvements in math skills from the rhythms, teamwork from the routines and fitness from the focused movements.
"I believe dance really enhances academics," she said. There are less tangible benefits, too. To make the routines flow, students conquer their fear of performing and overcome their urge to chatter.
Then there's the pure fun of it.
"For our less successful students, this gives them a reason to come to school. And if they are here, we can teach them," Grochau said.
Raven Asturi said many of those struggling students are her best pupils. "Teachers can see a totally different side of the student one who has confidence, one who is succeeding, is a leader," she said.
Everett students have her at least part of every year, and she sees big differences there from schools she just visits for short stints. Everett students have spatial awareness, the ability to stand in gridlike rows instead of banging into their friends.
"They have self-control. That's kind of difficult to find at public schools," she said. Teamwork and group awareness seem enhanced. "At other schools, they're kind of new to that concept," Raven Asturi said.
Special education students join in the mix. Teachers watching them perform tend to cry, she said. "But I'm never surprised. This is one area where they absolutely don't stand out (as disabled)," she said.
Everett's dance program will cost about $4,000 this year. Everett PTA covers a little less than half of that, said Debbie Bertucci, the Juline Foundation board's president. The balance comes from fund raising by the foundation, grants and corporate sponsorships.
The foundation supports the school programs and scholarships for additional lessons for dedicated dancers at Everett and other schools who pass an audition to be Juline Juniors.
At its peak, the foundation and United Way brought at least two months of dance to 32 schools, she said. This year, Juline teachers will travel to just a handful of campuses in addition to Everett.
The foundation got its start while Juline's School of Dance founder Juline Schmitz was losing her battle with cancer. Instead of flowers for her passing, friends and family contributed to her dream of spreading music and dance for children. That money lasted for nearly a decade, Bertucci said.
The first school program began at Shackelford Elementary when Pam Able now superintendent was principal. A dozen Shackelford students performed at the foundation's first fund-raiser. "When You Wish Upon a Star" brought down the house.
"We grew our main support system that night. Those friends of Juline continue to donate," Bertucci said.
And the dream pirouettes on, at least at Everett Elementary.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339.
IF YOU GO
The Juline Foundation for Children will hold a Mardi Gras Soiree on Nov. 3 at the Ripon Community Center. The fund-raiser includes dinner, wine tasting, a silent auction and a children's performance. Cost is $45. For more information, call (209) 872-4681. To support the Everett PTA fund-raiser, contact the PTA through the school at (209) 576-4009.