CLEARWATER — Ballet, hip-hop and computers wouldn't normally find themselves in the same sentence, let alone an educational program.
But those are just some of the elements that will be in the mix at an arts and technology charter school scheduled to open later this month at a Clearwater church.
Serving children in kindergarten through third grade, the Life Force Arts & Technology Academy will infuse ballet, hip-hop, modern dance, singing, theater and computers into a traditional educational curriculum.
"The twist here is we're going to be using performing arts and technology as a way of communicating with kids,'' said Maurice Mickens, chairman of the school. "The goal is for kids to work one grade above their level within a year.''
Classes will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at New Beginnings Community Church, 1390 Sunset Point Road, starting Aug. 24.
About 50 students have signed up; the goal is to have an enrollment of 196.
Instruction is personalized with 18 youngsters in a class. Each one will wear a uniform "to keep their concentration on schoolwork as opposed to style,'' Mickens said.
The program is holistic and encourages expression, said founder Jai Hinson. Children will not only be taught to read and write English, but also to read and write music.
"The teachers are artists,'' she said.
Among them is Sir Brock Warren, who went to Life Force Cultural Arts Academy, of which the school is an outgrowth.
After graduating from Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, he went on to earn a degree from the Boston Conservatory.
"He will help kids reach for higher goals,'' Hinson said.
The Life Force Cultural Arts Academy, which she founded in 1991, has its origins in the Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet whose performances have been seen throughout the United States.
The Life Force program offers a summer camp in Clearwater. It also hosts evening classes in St. Petersburg in folklore, dance, percussion, choreography and performance techniques.
Charter schools are public schools operating under a contractual agreement with the local school board and run by nonprofit organizations. As part of the state's program of public education, charter schools offer creative programs that are consistent with educational goals established by Florida law.
Life Force is one of 12 charter schools in Pinellas County. Tuition is free, but Life Force officials ask that parents be involved with their children's studies.
A number of youths in the Life Force program have come from very rough backgrounds, according to Mickens.
"They had behavior problems, poor self worth and were failing in school,'' he said. "After being in the (program) for a year or two, many have brought their grades up. And many who were told they couldn't learn come here and get to hear people clapping for them. They get to shine here. They are in the spotlight.''
Eileen Schulte can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153.