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Thousands Of Borderland Students Attend "Kids Excel" Performance

POSTED: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - 5:03pm

UPDATED: Monday, May 16, 2011 - 1:03pm

Thousands of Borderland students were treated to a special performance at the Plaza Theater. They got to see their peers, who participate in a year-round dance program, perform in the historic theater. For some, it's a unique opportunity, since some have never set foot on a stage.

It was a packed house at the historic Plaza Theater in Downtown El Paso for the "Kids Excel" end-of-the-year performance. The two dress rehearsals gave 360 4th graders the chance to perfect their performance onstage before a public showing tomorrow night.

Four-thousand 4th graders from EPISD, Canutillo ISD and La Fe Preparatory got to see their peers perform. The theme of the dance: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Saving the Planet One Dance Step At a Time.

Teachers got in on the act, as well city reps Beto O'Rourke, Susie Byrd and Steve Ortega, who showed off their moves.

Twenty-six schools in the Borderland participate in "Kids Excel,"a non-profit program, which teaches 4th-grade students from low-income families about art, music and dance.

"We're trying to teach them how to strive for a standard of excellence and we're using the arts because they're so engaging for children and they love them so much," said Kids Excel Executive Director Gemtria St. Clair.

St. Clair says dance instructors, accompanied by a musician, go to the students' schools to teach them. "It happens inside the school-day as part of the curriculum," said St. Clair. "The teachers come with their students. We see them once a week for 45 minutes for the entire school year."

In its seven years, the program has grown from 75 students to 2,200. "We're non-profit so we have to raise the money to be able to go into a school and we have to have a staff to be able to go into a school," said St. Clair.

The first half of the year, students learn about discipline. "How to stand up. How to sit down. How to line up. How to follow directions and everything in silence. Then the second half of the year, we work on putting together the show for the end of the year," said St. Clair.

"Kids Excel" also has an additional group called "Tiny Tots", a group of kids between three and seven years of age.

Lupe Rodriguez was one of the proud parents on hand watching her son, Diego, who got to play the part of "Little Elvis". She likes how students get the opportunity to learn things they might not learn in school.
"They've learned to appreciate the art of the stage," said Rodriguez. "They come. They rehearse. They learn discipline. They learn sign language. They learn to be quiet and control backstage when they're supposed to be quiet."

Fourth-grader Cesar Ramos says the program has helped him grow out of his shyness and he says, "It's really good because it teaches you how to be a good citizen."

St. Clair says the program is helping change our community one student and one dance at a time.

"They can accomplish something that's difficult and challenging and that changes the way you walk in the world," said St. Clair.

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