Riverside Arts Academy Keeps Growing - Press Enterprise
Three young girls in long, brightly colored skirts and a boy in black pants and a black sombrero followed along with their instructor. They stepped back and forth in time to recorded mariachi music in a spacious room at Riverside’s Arlanza Community Center.
The ballet folklórico course is one of two youth dance classes now offered on the city’s west end through the Riverside Arts Academy, a public-private partnership that has been growing since it launched about three years ago.
After starting at the Cesar Chavez Community Center in the city’s Eastside neighborhood, the free and low-cost arts education program – formerly called the School of the Arts – quickly rose in popularity and expanded last year to Arlanza and Casa Blanca.
Parents like Riverside resident Karen Cazares are happy to have the classes in Arlanza. Her daughter, 6-year-old Leylanie, prefers the music, movements and colorful skirts at her folklórico class to playing sports.
“If we don’t talk about it during the week, she’s always asking when she can come back,” Cazares said.
Though his mother, Monica Perez, said he was embarrassed at first, Eric Perez, 10, said he likes the dance class he and his sister are taking because, “You get to exercise and you get to have fun.”
Arts academy organizers and supporters say the fun is important, but they have bigger goals, like enlisting graduate students as instructors in music, art and dance and offering a wider variety of classes at the two newest locations. A fundraising gala for the program is set for Nov. 30.
MORE THAN DANCE
“This isn’t just about dance,” said Collette Lee, a Riverside real estate broker who has led private fundraising efforts for the academy. “We are really, truly trying to evolve this to be so much more.”
About 270 children are taking classes, and about 2,000 have participated since the program began, city recreation services coordinator Matt Tomjack said.
Enthusiasm about the academy has spilled over into schools, with Alvord Unified School District Superintendent Sid Salazar planning to start a music program for fifth-graders in January. Salazar said he was inspired by a book Lee gave him about El Sistema, a publicly funded music program for Venezuelan children.
Research shows that learning music can help kids improve academic skills like math and reading, Salazar said, but most of his students don’t have access to music programs.
He was happy to see the arts academy bring classes to the Arlanza neighborhood. So was City Councilman Jim Perry, who represents the area.
Some of Perry’s constituents are low-income families who can’t afford private music or art lessons, but they deserve learning opportunities, he said.
The expansion didn’t take off immediately, Perry said, but “ever since then those classes have filled rapidly and had waiting lists, so I think that’s a success.”
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Originally Published: http://www.pe.com/2015/11/21/riverside-arts-academy-keeps-growing/