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VOL 3. NO. 9 Monday, October 25 - Sunday, November 6, 2004
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Drumming Up A Love for Learning
By Sharee BROOKS
It has been proven throughout history that children must be captured, enraptured and entertained when it comes to developing a healthy and strong love for learning. This fact is no more evident than it is right now when children are being indiscriminately bombarded with information and overwhelmed with issues that are not age appropriate. Educators have an awesome task on their hands as they continue to try and reach these brilliant but preoccupied minds.

But if you are a dedicated nurturer of young minds you simply find a way. You find a way to capture their attention and hold it. You find a way to open up a world to them that they never knew existed. You find a way to pass on to them a healthy and unshakable love for learning.

One organization has found it's way into the minds of young people through the rhythm of a drum. This is not just any drum but a steeldrum. An instrument that is neither male nor female oriented, too loud or not loud enough. The steel drum is exquisite in its unique sound and user friendly. These characteristics, in part, lead the Cultural Academy for Excellence (CAFE) to use the steel drum as the Pied Piper used his flute -- to capture and hold attention.

CAFE relies on this melodic percussion instrument which was developed in the island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to excite, attract and assist children in developing a healthy love for education. Said to be the only new instrument invented in the 20th century, the steeldrum is the backbone on which CAFE's program is built. An art based program, it is designed to assist students five and older to enhance their academic achievement and personal growth. In existence for four-and-a-half years, CAFE works to build discipline, character and self-esteem in their participants.

Lorna Green, the executive director of this not-for-profit organization, sees her vision in action everyday as CAFE fuses standard education with the performing arts. "The steeldrum is an instrument that you can learn rather easily and quickly. They can see some results and accomplishments early and it holds their attention," stated Green as she affirmed the reason for CAFE's choice in instruments.

CAFE has a program that is strong in its academic approach and relies on the talents and commitments of a group of qualified and experienced professionals who selflessly volunteer their time. Programs include the CAFE Test Improvement Program (C-TIP) which is designed to teach strategies and techniques to 11-18-year-olds to strengthen their reading and math skills in preparation for standardized tests. Another program, Elementary Preparatory Introduction Component (EPIC), enrolls students between the ages of 5-10. EPIC's focus is centered on reading and chess, which help to develop critical reading and thinking skills, and in turn gives these young students a foundation for future academic and social success.

"Most of the students are from the metropolitan area and they come to us by word of mouth or at a performance. This year's world soloist steeldrum champion, who is from Trinidad and the world duet champions all attended CAFE's summer camp and won with the music from our camp" acknowledged Green. Being a part of the Positive Vibrations Youth Steel Orchestra (11-18) or the Rhythm Starters (10 and under) is what motivates these young people to stay vigilant in pursuing their academic responsibilities, she continued.

"It has helped me tremendously and showed me how to persevere in my work and be patient with other people. Playing the steeldrum is so much fun and the music it makes is so beautiful", said 14-year-old Gentonia Vicent, a native of Grenada.

Belinda Caesar, a 13-year-old participant now in the program for about a year, also proudly declared what CAFE has done for her as a student, "I have gotten on the honor roll and they have helped me with my math classes. The academic part of the program has really been great for me and I have fun playing the steeldrum with my friends." Belinda's mom agrees with her daughter's idea of CAFE's influence in her life. 'I really believe in what Mrs. Green is trying to do with the kids. CAFE allows kids to be expressive and the parents can be involved as much as they want to," says Ms. Caesar. Parental participation is required and helps to supplement all of CAFE's programs, the result is an adult group called "Parents On Pan" (POP).

With a motto like "Dare to Dream-Prepare to Succeed" how can the children enrolled in this program do anything but prosper? If you are interested in enrolling your child in the Cultural Academy for Excellence or have a dream of playing the steeldrum yourself you can reach Lorna Green, Executive Director, at 301-262-9032 or e-mail CAFE at: lgreencafe@aol.com.

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