Fourth-graders at East Columbus Elementary School have immersed themselves — and their bodies — in a program called Momentum.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Javon Ross readily admits he doesn’t like to dance. But you wouldn’t know it by watching this fourth grader move his feet to every beat.

“It taught me to be more confident and show off my moves in front of everyone,” he said. “And I just want to do a good job to make my mom proud.”

Since the beginning of the academic year, fourth-graders of East Columbus Elementary School immersed themselves – and their bodies – in a program called Momentum.

Since 2003, the program has empowered 12,000 students in 40 central Ohio schools through dance, music and performance.

“We go beyond dance and use art where it reaches your soul,” says Janine Gelarducci, Momentum’s artistic director. “That way, they can practice the Big Four habits of doing your best, working hard, never giving up and working as a team,” she added.

Gelarducci added that Momentum’s mission is to teach children to respect each other and different cultures. This year’s dance theme is “Speak the Truth”. It is based on an ancient Chinese children’s story about honesty and being true to yourself.

“I think it’s called ‘Yin and Yang’ about peace being white and the other being darkness,” Ross explained. “So when I feel bad it’s dark, but when I feel happy it’s light.”

Zeni Fowler-Wakefield says the dance curriculum taught students how to spot each other’s differences.

“I learned this [others are] not much different from you and we are all the same even if we are of a different race, she said quietly. “It is important that we are all treated right and that we all have equal rights.”

Gelarducci says Momentum is a bridge that helps build respect in the community.

“When you go through all of our CCS schools, there are so many cultures, and to teach them to appreciate and respect that, and then we learn about that, it brought some kindness,” she said.

East Columbus Elementary Principal Jaime Spren agreed, saying the transformation of her fourth-graders is pretty magical.

“I’m a strong believer in the arts because not every student has strengths in the same areas,” Spren said. “Some sing, some play instruments, some dance, and CCS has ways to use that gift [Momentum] and work towards making it your career for life.

“Because I have to remember all the choreography, I have to remember things in class, and that led me to my three honor rolls today,” Fowler-Wakefield said with a smile.

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