After-school project undergoes a metamorphosis of its ownDuluth schools' “Metamorphosis Project,” started in 2011 with Duluth school district integration money, was paid for by grants for the first time this year.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Sequins sparkling, a gaggle of Lowell Elementary School girls shouted “azucar!” as they assumed their salsa dance positions.
The third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, reciting the Spanish catchphrase “sugar” heard playing in the song, were taking part in a twice-weekly after-school homework and enrichment program Monday at Lowell. They will perform the dance at a cultural show at Laura MacArthur Elementary School next month.
The girls are part of a program called the “Metamorphosis Project,” paid for by grants for the first time this year. It began in 2011 with Duluth school district integration money, but with lawmakers threatening to eventually reduce the amount the district receives, its organizers applied for grants. This year it received $15,000 from the Northland Foundation, $5,000 from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation and $2,000 from Minnesota Power.
“It became problematic to wait and not be sure if we were going to be able to run the program,” said Veronica Quillien, a former integration specialist who now works for the Minneapolis school district, but still administers the project.
The first year it also had a different focus and age-group, celebrating preteen and teen black girls, and was housed at Central Hillside Community Center. Last year it moved to Morgan Park Middle School with a new focus on two groups: technology-based learning for boys and culture and Spanish language for girls. This year, organizers hope it has found a permanent home at Lowell, where the program is the same but the age group changed.
Program volunteer and district integration specialist Gabriela Theis works out of Lowell, so it made sense to have the program there, she said. Interest was so high for each section, she had to limit the numbers to 15 girls and 22 boys, she said.
She teaches the technology group, which works out of the school computer lab and also uses 24 iPads.
Feedback told her that after-school learning through math and reading games played on computers is what students wanted.
“We have a lot of clubs through the YMCA, but not a lot for boys,” said Theis, who is studying the effectiveness of the math software.
Fourth-grader Jackson Fye said he signed up to take advantage of homework help, after he was encouraged by his mom. But the group is popular, he said, because you get to hang out with friends after school and play on computers.
The idea is to improve reading and math scores, Quillien said, and language skills and technology play important parts in doing that.
“We want them at grade level by the time they are done with elementary school,” she said.
Lisa Telando is mom to a third-grader in the program. Her daughter enjoys learning Spanish, she said.
“It’s a perfect fit for my daughter; it’s creating unity,” she said. “Senora Theis is spectacular in what she is doing, and not a day goes by my daughter doesn’t talk about her and the different things she does.”
The two groups work together on cultural events, and if the girls want to work on computers and the boys on language, organizers will allow a switch, Quillien said.
Duluth has a small Hispanic population, said Kat Livadaros, a specialist with the Duluth school district’s Adelante Hispanic/Latino Cultural Center. She volunteer teaches the girls’ group.
“We have to think and hope our kids will eventually go to college … where they will be more exposed to people of different cultures,” she said. “That’s what metamorphosis is really about: preparing for their futures academically and socially.”
Third-grader Dalayla Davis says she really has taken to salsa dancing, learning Spanish and just about everything the after-school program offers.
“I’m like a drumming expert,” she said.
Most importantly, it’s helping her explore her background, she said, because her mom is Puerto Rican and Cuban. She just hopes she doesn’t have to salsa with boys (her teacher says she won’t). That, she said, would be “funny and weird.”