Knox County school's Circus program boosts kids' confidence

Knox County school's Circus program boosts kids' confidence

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The students have been perfecting their stilt walking skills all school year. The students have been perfecting their stilt walking skills all school year.
Circus arts is taught after school and during the summer. Circus arts is taught after school and during the summer.
The program is about discipline, boosting self confidence and working together to solve problems. The program is about discipline, boosting self confidence and working together to solve problems.

By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Education Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Imagine learning math, science and social studies while performing like an acrobat. The Community Schools program at Pond Gap Elementary School is getting results in a non-conventional way, and students continue to reach new heights in the summer program.

It looked like a day under the big top in the halls of Pond Gap as students performed like circus pros. They showed off skills they've been perfecting all school year, like stilt walking and riding a unicycle.

"You identify something that's difficult for you. You learn how you can break down that challenge and master it," explained circus arts instructor Jake Weinstein.

Circus arts is taught after school and during the summer.

"It's awesome, stilt walking, jump roping, spools!" said Tray Woodruff, 11.

"It's really about unlocking in the children their ability to learn because the children are tremendously intelligent, but a lot of these kids have difficulty in school," Weinstein said.

"I was kind of wobbly and scared that I was going to fall," Justice Jack said about her first attempt to walk on stilts. The eight year old said she kept practicing and didn't give up. "I just had some spotters and when I finally let go, I just started walking on my own."

The program is about discipline, boosting self confidence and working together to solve problems.

Lissa McLeod teaches alongside Weinstein. She says watching the students' growth in the program has been remarkable.

"When we first started teaching here, we had kids who could not figure out how to stand on a two-by-two platform together because they were so busy fighting with each other," McLeod recalled. "Now we can do the same exercise, and they figured out that they can work as teams."

The students are also learning academics, focusing on areas they need to strengthen. "We're learning about math, like geometry, and times tables and division," Justice said.

All their lessons are taught in a big top-like atmosphere. "They've really grown in their ability to focus and their ability to follow directions," Weinstein said.

"Stilt walking is not difficult," said McLeod. "It's about overcoming fear, and it's about getting up on stilts and knowing that you're going to be okay. You've got to take some deep breaths and relax and take those first steps. Those are skills that we're all going to need in our life if we're going to do things that we're not sure that we know how to do."

The students said they enjoyed the feeling of overcoming their fears. "Yeah, I'm proud of myself and happy," Justice said.

Circus arts is just one part of the Community Schools Program at Pond Gap Elementary. The school also offers services for the whole family, including resume building for parents.

Since the pilot program started in 2010, there's been a dramatic drop in student absences and behavior problems.

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