Toolbox: From the Field

Salsa Scholars: Getting Kids Moving, Reading and Writing!

Salsa Scholars
Salsa Scholars guides youth through the history of Latin and Afro-Cuban culture and teaches them the dance steps of Salsa and other Latin styles. Good Shepherd Services

Good Shepherd Services is a New York City nonprofit serving about 2,700 K-8th graders through 27 afterschool programs located in low income communities in Brooklyn and the Bronx. All of our afterschool programs are strongly committed to exposing youth to the joys of literacy and its relationship to other content areas, especially the arts, and nowhere is this more clearly reflected than in our Salsa Scholars initiative.

Created in 2010 in partnership with the arts organization Areytos Performance Works, Salsa Scholars is a 20 week interdisciplinary exploration of the legacy of Fania Records, the preeminent New York City Salsa music label in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Reaching approximately three hundred and fifty 3-12th graders this school year in 15 of our afterschool programs, Salsa Scholars guides youth through the history of Latin and Afro-Cuban culture and teaches them the dance steps of Salsa and other Latin styles, such as the Meringue, Cha-cha, and Rumba.

Literacy is deeply infused into programming to demonstrate to participants that reading and writing are both fun and integral to everyday life. At the beginning of each session, youth are introduced to a word or concept of the day and learn about its historical and social context, and throughout the program, students read about famous Salsa artists and participate in writing exercises, such as detailing describing how Salsa is relevant to their everyday lives.

Social/emotional skill building is also holistically infused into this enrichment program. For example, participants learn teambuilding through partner dance exercises, and youth who have mastered content tutor their peers. Additionally, to promote a healthy lifestyle, Salsa Scholars incorporates physical fitness through having all activities include moderate to vigorous movement and ensuring students stay active throughout the session.

Salsa Scholars

Good Shepherd Services

Salsa Congress, a yearly event where teams of youth perform in front of family and friends, has proven so popular that it has outgrown its original location.

At the end of the year we host Salsa Congress, a joyous event where teams from participating afterschools perform in front of family and friends. About 500 guests attended the 2014 event, which included a lively performance by Salsa Singer Frankie Negron and a panel of judges, including Ballet Hispanico and Mr. Negron, to assess student performance. To demonstrate the popularity of this event and the Salsa Scholars initiative, this year we are moving Salsa Congress to the New York Society for Ethical Culture because we outgrew our previous space at El Musio De Barrio.

Bret Ratner is a Senior Grants Manager at Good Shepherd Services (GSS). Rooted in work begun in 1857, and incorporated in 1947, GSS is a leading youth and family development agency serving nearly 30,000 participants annually through 88 programs. The agency’s mission is to go where children, youth, and families face the greatest challenges and build on their strengths to help them gain skills for success. For more information, contact


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