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Patel Conservatory helps students tap into the arts in Jackson Heights


“And a one, and a two, and a three … "

It's a recent Wednesday afternoon at the Jackson Heights NFL Youth Education Town in East Tampa and a dozen kids are moving to the rhythm of Justin Timberlake's Release, while instructor Henry DeMario counts their steps — "and a seven, and an eight."

"You got it!" he says, watching the students sway in synch.

It's hip-hop time.

DeMario's class is part of a multimedia education partnership between the NFL-YET center and the Patel Conservatory at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

The program, which started last summer, offers free instruction in the arts to almost 200 students from lower income communities at the county's two NFL-YET centers. The classes include recording arts and hip-hop dance at the Jackson Heights location and video arts at the Mort Park location in Lutz.

"The arts can really be transforming," said Leslie Shepard, director of academic affairs at Patel. "The program is specifically targeted to underserved communities that will usually never have an exposure to the arts."

The two NFL-YET centers are legacies of Super Bowl XXXV, which Tampa hosted in 2001. The NFL donates $1 million to the host cities, and the cities match that to create recreation centers in underprivileged areas, explained Tina James, Patel's education program manager who also worked previously with NFL-YET.

Today, there are 15 YET centers throughout the country. They become places "to release aggression." James said.

Besides the fine arts classes sponsored through Patel, the centers offer field trips to the Buccaneers training camp and football games, projects in leadership, volunteer initiatives and an afterschool tutorial program.

After Tampa hosted Super Bowl XLIII this year, the NFL's $1 million donation was used to expand programs and infrastructures at the area's two centers. The Jackson Heights location implemented a new fitness room and a multipurpose room, while the Mort Park facility got a new football field.

The Jackson Heights facility serves about 95 kids, mostly from Oak Park Elementary School and Franklin Middle Magnet School, where Sarah Sumes attends.

"It's fun," said Sarah, 13.

The Mort Park facility serves about 85 students mostly from Pizzo Elementary, Buchanan Middle School and King High School.

Transportation is offered to students who have no means to get around.

Besides the NFL donations, the city and county pay $175,000 annually for programs and activities at both centers.

The Patel Conservatory sponsored the education partnership program at the centers by providing $100,000 worth of services, such as professional instructors, during the 2008-09 year.

On Mondays, kids learn how to compose music during a recording arts class. Wednesdays are dedicated to power moves and other skills in the hip-hop dance class, while film and documentaries are produced on Fridays during the video arts class at Mort Park. On Saturdays, a bus takes kids from both centers to the Patel Conservatory downtown for creative drama, theater and dance.

Stephanie Owens-Royster, executive director of NFL-YET Tampa Bay, said that the program is beneficial because it teaches discipline.

Moreover, she said, "it is important for kids to have fun."

Teachers also tend to enjoy the experience.

"I love it," said DeMario, 28. "I want to expose kids to different styles of dance and keep them occupied."

The Patel's programs will halt at both centers at the end of the school year but resume with the beginning of the 2009-10 year. Youth from both centers may participate in a full-time summer program at the Patel Conservatory, though the schedule has not been determined yet.

Alessandra Da Pra can be reached at or (813) 226-3321.


The Patel Conservatory has partnered with NFL Youth Education Town centers, offering free instruction in the arts. Anyone interested in participating in the current program or the summer activities should contact program manager Lee Owens at or call the centers:

NFL-YET Jackson Heights: 3310 E Lake Ave., Tampa; (813) 242-5346

NFL-YET Mort Park: 1815 E 148th Ave., Lutz; (813) 975-2101

Patel Conservatory helps students tap into the arts in Jackson Heights 04/23/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 23, 2009 4:30am]
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