From Charleston County School District for The Island Connection
Students who live in rural parts of Charleston County often don’t have the same opportunities as those who live in the suburbs. For example, dance studios are not plentiful on Johns Island, and programs in adjacent communities often are financially out of reach for families and inconvenient to access.
At Mount Zion Elementary School, though, counselor Diemchi Nguyen, the school’s 2017-18 teacher of the year, is bringing dance instruction to students – and it’s all free of charge. She was awarded a $1,600 grant from the Kiawah-Seabrook Exchange Club, which supports the Charleston County School District’s Sea Island schools, and $1,300 from Communities in Schools.
Grant funding is used for dance lessons led by instructors from Dance.Laugh.Learn. Thanks to this funding, Mount Zion has been able to offer dance to students for the past three years. Classes, available to all fourth and fifth graders, are held during the school day, eliminating the hassle of having to arrange for transportation.
“Some kids have the opportunity participate in extracurricular activities, which left others feeling left out,” said Nguyen. “I had one little girl on my mind that I really wanted to provide an opportunity to.”
That’s when Nguyen turned to Rylee Coppel, co-founder of Dance.Laugh.Learn, which was recently named the Early Childhood Artist in Residence at the Charleston Gaillard Center.
“It is important to our company to be accessible to anyone, and part of our mission is to reach them,” said Coppel. “We will do whatever we can to work with the school on pricing and scheduling so that these children have an opportunity to learn the art of dance and express themselves.”
More than 30 boys and girls participate in the program. Jasmyne Robinson, a fifth-grader at Mount Zion, wanted to join because she felt like it would be just right for her.
“I thought it would be hard to learn the routines, but it came easily to me, so I knew I would participate again this year,” said Robinson.
“What I like best about it is learning new things, having fun and being energetic.”
“The first class the kids are so pumped,” said Coppel. “Some are shy but they want to be here. Some don’t want to show that they want to be here. But all of that changes once the music starts.”
Coppel was shocked at the number of boys who signed up but thrilled to see their interest. She understands the importance of arts and creativity in the lives of young children.
“They come in here full of energy,” said Coppel. “It’s good for them to get out that energy, and we’re not going to shut that down. We’re going to encourage it as their own individual forms of expression.”
Fifth-grader Gracie Broach has always wanted to be a dancer. She heard about the class and jumped at the opportunity to be able to participate.
“When I first walked in, I was excited and nervous, and I didn’t know what to expect,” said Broach. “Now my favorite part about it is working together to get the routine right and correcting the things we don’t have right.”
The final performance has traditionally been part of an evening PTA meeting, but this year it will be held during a daytime school assembly so students can showcase their work in front of a large audience of their peers. This plan also addresses the transportation issue for parents who may struggle to bring their children back to the school in the evening.
Nguyen noted that dance serves as an opportunity for the students to stay active.
“Dance class is held on the same day each week and has improved student attendance and increased family participation at our school,” she said.
The routines and music are choreographed around modern dance routines. In the final recital, students will be decked out in costume accessories donated by Dance. Laugh.Learn.