The gym at Hoxsie Elementary School was filled with music and cheers of applause. Teacher Susan Houle fulfilled her promise to perform her routine for May’s RI Mentoring Partnership’s Dancing with the Stars of Mentoring fundraiser if the school raised over $500 for the cause.
“I had the idea, since the RI Mentoring Partnership benefits our school, I thought it would be good to have a fundraiser here,” said Houle.
So she planned a Spirit Day for Friday, April 4. During the week leading up to the Spirit Day, students donated money to be allowed to dress as their favorite TV, movie or book character for the celebration. By Spirit Day, the school had raised over $600 and the hallways were filled with baseball players, Harry Potters, princesses, and more.
“I promised them if they raised $500 or more, Randy [her professional partner] and I would perform for them,” said Houle, a few days before the performance. “They’re excited. A lot of kids in other grades have asked when they are going to see me dance.”
Houle and her partner, Randy Deats, opened Tuesday morning’s assemblies (one for K-3, another for 4-6) to cheers from students and teachers alike. But to give the students more than a three-minute assembly, Houle organized even more entertainment.
A group of about a dozen sixth-graders took to the floor to perform a simple cha-cha step, followed by six of the students partnering up to showcase how a partner cha-cha would look. Then, Hoxie gym teacher Andrew Smith got the audience up on their feet to teach the whole group the basic cha-cha.
Finally, Deats’ fellow professionals from Warwick’s The Dancin’ Feelin’, Racheal Capodano and Josh Morganstein, performed a full cha-cha for the crowd to see what years of practice can result in.
The performance was Houle’s first public performance with Deats, and she admits she was more nervous about performing for her co-workers and students than she will be for strangers at the May fundraiser.
A sixth grade teacher at Hoxsie, Houle became involved with the Dancing with the Stars of Mentoring fundraiser through her husband. He knew members of the RI Mentoring Partnership and found out they were looking for women to dance in the show. Having had students with mentors in the past, Houle knew the value of the program and was eager to help.
“The students absolutely love it when the mentor shows up,” said Houle, recalling how her former students would love to get called down to spend time with their mentors. “There’s so many more who could have mentors, but there’s just not enough.”
Houle feels mentors are a valuable resource for many students because they serve as a confidant, an adult they can trust and who will lead them down the right path, something not all kids are lucky enough to have in their life.
“They help them grow, help keep them out of trouble,” said Houle.
As for the dancing, Houle feels the fundraiser is a unique and fun way to raise money for a great cause. She has been practicing with Deats twice a week for the past few months to perfect her Viennese Waltz, which will be performed to the INXS song, “Never Tear Us Apart.” Although she has participated in other styles of dance, ballroom is a new style for her but something she is getting the hang of.
“It’s fun. It’s definitely different from other types of dance I’ve done,” said Houle.
A big change is working with a partner; Houle has needed to learn to be aware of where she stands in regards to Deats.
“He’s very patient and a good sport,” said Houle.
Deats has enjoyed working with Houle as well.
“It’s a gift for several reasons,” said Deats, following their performance. “She likes to dance. She’s having fun with it instead of being traumatized.”
Deats feels Houle has a deep understanding of the value of mentors.
“Because she is a teacher in an elementary school, she knows the importance of mentors,” he said.
Deats has participated in Dancing with the Stars of Mentoring since it began eight years ago, and mentoring is a cause he believes in.
“I believe we need to have much more multi-generational impact,” he said. “We don’t spend enough one-on-one time together.”
Deats added that many children could just be sat in front of a television, even if they have two parents in the home, and feels there is a lack of community compared to 40, 50 years ago.
Deats and the others at The Dancin’ Feelin’ may not serve as mentors on a weekly basis, but they work with both the community and local colleges, as well as ballroom dancing groups, and as a result, have a supportive, fun place to go to learn and grow.
“We believe everyone needs a life support of some kind,” he said.
Deats sees a real sense of mentoring with the groups at local colleges; they are responsible for organizing their group, performances or competitions, and the studio will provide support when necessary.
“We don’t have mentees week to week, but we try,” said Deats.
Houle is about halfway to her fundraising goal, having raised about $1,800 of a $2,500 goal. She is hopeful to raise the rest by the May 1 event.