The Coast News Group

Dance program helps low-income students

ESCONDIDO — Last year, 135 third and fourth graders from Vista, San Marcos and Escondido auditioned for a coveted spot in non-profit program A Step Beyond.

Executive Director Frank Foster said the board was heartbroken to have to have to turn away 100 of them for the program, which aims to improve the lives of its participants.

A Step Beyond started last year with 35 third and fourth graders.

After holding a five-day dance outreach program, low-income students were asked to audition for the yearlong program.

The hope is the students will stick with the program throughout their school years.

“A Step Beyond is a comprehensive program including extensive and state of the art modern contemporary dance instruction, academic services and family services,” said Foster.

The program is free to students.

The aim is to increase children’s self-esteem and academic performance through dance classes and academic tutoring.

Students take dance classes up to six days a week at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

Another aspect is academic support.

“Through our academic program, students learn critical thinking skills,” said Board Member Vicki Zeiger. “They also get exposure to subjects in math, science, technology, engineering and the arts so they can broaden their thinking about careers they may someday go after.”

Students are encouraged to stick with the program throughout their academic careers in order to finish high school and go on to college.

While the program is still relatively new, the student feedback has been good.

“A Step Beyond helps me in my life with homework and academics because usually I don’t get my homework done as much,” said student Malana.

Currently, there are 35 students in the third and fourth grade. Program coordinators hope to have a full spectrum of grades by 2022, ranging from third to twelfth grade.

It also provides a safe haven for students.

“My priority is that this is a place that feels safe and non-judgmental that kids can come to during life when crises occur, when life happens and when happy times are going on and where they can share their wins and losses and know that they’re worthy and they’re accepted,” said Family Services Manager Lisa O’Conner-Riddle.

Funding for the program comes from the board members’ dues and from a grant from The Bro-Am Foundation, which holds an annual concert and surf festival at Moonlight Beach.

Students return at the beginning of the school year in September. Auditions for new students will be held Oct. 17.

Mayor Sam Abed said he appreciates the program for its success and for helping fulfill a promise to the voters.

“Part of our promise to the voters when we did the Center for the Arts was to have a component for education for the kids and I appreciate (A Step Beyond) helping us deliver on that promise,” Abed said.

At a City Council meeting on Aug. 5 Foster thanked the council and Olga Diaz for pointing him to the California Center for the Arts.