LA’s BEST Serves up Innovative Smorgasbord of Fun, Learning

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The LA’s BEST after-school program Carla Sanger has run for 26 years has enjoyed backing from five consecutive mayors of Los Angeles, two nationally prominent California governors, Arnold Schwazenegger (R) and now Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr. (D), and a host of other prominent figures from education, business, sports, film, science and law.

The renowned program for elementary school children also has received strong support from the likes of Buzz Aldrin, Kirk Douglas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Magic Johnson, James Earl Jones, David Beckham, Natalie Cole, Dustin Hoffman and numerous other prominent figures.

Consider even a small sampling of L.A.’s BEST offerings, and it’s easy to understand the enthusiasm national accolades for the program in after-school circles.

As part of an LA’s BEST “arts residency,” more than 55,000 children have participated in twice-weekly performing or visual arts workshops for 10 weeks. Professional artists lead the hands-on workshops in an array of subjects, such as traditional Brazilian dance, Afro-Latin percussion, violin, drama, chorus and digital photography. LA’s BEST cites research showing arts education helps keep kids engaged in school, increases their self-esteem and fosters more creative problem-solving.

In the LA’s BEST annual Celebrate Science Fair, students collaborate as teams on interactive science experiments. They follow a team inquiry model developed with guidance from the NASA-CalTech Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, which has controlled most U.S. planetary probes. Students who advance to the citywide science fair present their findings to professional scientists and science educators. Prizes for winners have included educational field trips such as serving as an “oceanographer” for a day aboard the Marine Institute’s research vessel and a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

Among other annual events, the Community Jam Against Violence spotlights students who sing, dance, act and recite original poems on well-known Los Angeles stages in a talent showcase with the theme of taking a stand against violence.

Each year, the Family Health Festival offers thousands of students and their families free medical and dental health screenings, along with nutritious snacks and activities designed to promote a healthy lifestyle. The Dance & Drill Team Showcase brings together thousands of students for two weekends as they display their mastery of drill team and dance skills.

Connecting for Success, an LA’s BEST anti-violence curriculum developed with input from parents, psychologists and psychiatrists, strives to reduce children’s tolerance for violence. For example, students learn about children being maimed by landmines planted by cocaine drug lords to protect coca fields in Colombia — and thus develop sympathy for the victims of violence far and near.

Also to build sympathy, some LA’s BEST kids visited an animal shelter and “adopted” abused dogs by learning their stories, taking videos of them to promote official adoption, then making them doggie cookies and bandanas. The youngsters even created a card game with dogs’ names on each card.

Such LA’s BEST offerings reflect the program’s philosophy, Sanger said.

“If there’s one lesson to be learned from LA’s BEST, it’s this: We uphold our values over every other consideration,” she said in an email. “Education policy and trends fluctuate, funders’ directives come and go, school administrations vary in their priorities. But through it all, our decision-making at LA’s BEST is based on what we believe, especially this: Nothing we do is as important as the effect it has on a child.”

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