“I like [pottery] because if you mess up you get to try again,” says 8-year-old Lucie Lamberson, one of 10 girls in an after-school pottery class at Hutchison School. “It’s like my second favorite thing in the world,” announces 6-year-old Lilly Fahey as she fine-tunes her pinch pot. Her first favorite is yoga, which she also takes through Hutchison’s Center for Excellence.
These girls are among the 200 children who participate in a Center for Excellence class every weekday after school. Here you’ll find preschoolers taking pre-ballet, lower-school girls rehearsing in choir practice, middle-school girls constructing props for a Destination Imagination competition, upper-school co-eds in orchestra practicing the Beatles’ Blackbird for a spring concert; and lacrosse and tennis clinics keeping kids outdoors busy on an unseasonably mild February afternoon.
Reaching out to the community
Since Hutchison School introduced its popular Arts Academy in 2004, which evolved into the Center for Excellence in 2007, thousands of students from more than 150 schools have participated in after-school, weekend, and summer programs. The classes are held on the school’s rolling, 52-acre campus. Other private schools nationally are now using Hutchison’s CFE as a model.
Hutchison’s CFE programs are designed to build skills while having fun. They integrate science, math, history, language arts, leadership, and life skills into exciting activities. [The children] are building skills they can use throughout their lives,” says CFE Director Tracey Zerwig Ford. Summer classes are half-day or full-days from a single day to two weeks. There are co-ed and girls-only classes for preschoolers to high school seniors. Prices vary but a four- to five half-day summer class runs around $150. Financial aid is also available for some programs.
The goal of the Center for Excellence “is to share Hutchison’s tradition of excellence in learning, exploring, looking, and thinking with the greater Memphis community,” says Zerwig Ford. The center gives program participants a chance to “meet students from the tri-state area with the same interests. Kids and families make great connections that otherwise they may not have,” she notes.
Hutchison’s campus includes soccer fields, tennis courts, an athletic center, computer labs, dance studios, a lake, swimming pool, and theater. “The Center is such a great fit for our facility and for bringing the community onto our campus,” says Zerwig Ford. CFE has grown from serving 3,450 students from 80 schools across the Mid-South in 2007 to more than 7,000 students from 158 schools in 2012. More than 60 percent of its summer and weekend participants come from outside the Hutchison community. The center also offers year-round family activities, parenting workshops, and professional development for educators.
Summer camp offerings
Campers will have it made in the shade this summer at Hutchison’s SPARK Day Camp and CFE summer programs, which includes everything from water sports and foreign language classes to robot and computer construction. Parents have it made too, because the summer programs run until August 9th.
SPARK is a traditional co-ed day camp with swimming, fishing, canoeing, sports, drama, music, dance, computers, and arts and crafts. CFE also offers a rich variety of skill-building workshops, which include creating video games and toys; making potions and playing quidditch with other Harry Potter fanatics; a variety of sports, visual and performing arts; plus gardening, cooking, and more. Campers can also split their day and take advantage of both programs.
CFE sustains itself through class fees but partners with community organization, too. For example, Delta Girls Rock Camp receives support from Memphis Music and Girls Confidence Coalition is sponsored in part by the national sorority Kappa Delta. Ana Romero, a Hutchison sophomore, has been active in Arts Academy and CFE classes since kindergarten, where she’s taken everything from tap and ballet to violin and orchestra.
“I’m not athletically gifted at all,” she admits. But she is musical and currently the orchestra manager. “It’s a wonderful program,” Romero tells me. “It has definitely helped me with time-management skills, and it’s given me an outlet for my creativity.”
The center also offers free or low-cost events throughout the year, if the programs are an important experience for the community, says Zerwig Ford. Free family activities include Container Gardening on Hutchison’s organic farm; A Taste of China, learning about Chinese language and culture through hands-on experiences; and Art for Heart Sake, making art projects that are hung in special places around Memphis, such as Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, and the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center.Romero is grateful to her parents for supporting her love of the arts. “It’s a gift that my parents give me,” she says. The mature 16-year-old says she has noticed that arts are usually the first thing to be cut in many schools. “Arts are generally underappreciated in high school, but not here; arts are a part of everyday life.”