Fontana Supporters Stand Up for A.B. Miller Dance Program
By Dianne Anderson
Dani Andrade reminisces about her old stomping ground, A.B. Miller High School, and growing up in Fontana at a time when opportunities were slim or none.
She started high school during the 2008 Great Recession when the campus didn’t have enough counselors, there were steep budget cuts, and her father had just been laid off from work. She had been attending a dance studio, but it had closed down.
Even though the community was already lacking many things, she found her creative and emotional outlet in her second-period dance class with Nicole Robinson.
“Do you know how rare it is to go to a public school that has an award-winning dance program run by a teacher of color? I didn’t know it then, but that is unheard of,” said Andrade, alumni of the A.B. Miller Dance Program.
Andrade, who went on to UCLA and earned her bachelor’s degree in dance, said that being a student of color, a Latina and an immigrant, the opportunity was priceless.
The program helped her muster the courage to go away to college, and get a job in Silicon Valley.
Most of her college classmates came from wealthier backgrounds, and paid big money for their dance lessons, but that was a luxury that she and others at A.B. Miller Dance Program couldn’t afford.
She said what they got from the dance program was much more valuable. The experience and access to top quality dance lessons lifted her self esteem. She learned she could reach higher in whatever field or career she chose.
“I didn’t know that the world was excluding me because Mrs. Robinson and her program always made sure I was included, Andrade said. “She taught me to never tell myself no, and because of that I am where I am today.”
Michael Garcia, public information officer for Fontana Unified School District, said the district is offering three dance classes this fall and will offer up to four dance classes in spring, depending upon student interest, as with all CTE and elective courses.
“FUSD and the administration at AB Miller High School have no plans to eliminate the program. Information being spread about the program is false. We believe exposure to the arts, such as dance, is essential to the student experience,” he said in an email.
Dance teacher Nicole Robinson begs to differ that the program is unaffected.
She has been with the district for 25 years, having racked up numerous awards for her specialized dance collaborative curriculum, and she has taught roughly 2,000 students.
While the program hasn’t officially dismantled, she argues that it might as well be because over 100 students were not able to participate. The locker rooms have been removed, she said, and the changing room in their other studio is no longer available.
“If you’ve exited 100 students, we’ve canceled classes, what are we doing?” she asks. “If those aren’t cuts, what are they?”
She said one dance teacher had retired, but two teachers from non-dance departments were hired. The administration chose not to replace the existing position in the dance department despite the need.
As a result, she said there is no room to accommodate students that want to take the program.
“Their request to me was that I needed to do something about these extra students. I can’t do anything. We don’t have room for them,” she said.
Robinson’s program is state recognized creative pipeline helping students from early childhood through 12th grade and into college. She said the administrators say there is a three-year rebuilding plan potentially in the works, but she doesn’t know what it is, or why.
“Why are we rebuilding something that has a 25-year-old foundation? Why would you tear something successful down to rebuild it?” she asks.
More importantly, she argues that arts programs are so few and far between in communities of color and Title 1 schools, she said.
“There are soft skills and life skills that are unique to the arts. There is a work ethic piece, and a sense of self-identity that students of color often lose as they navigate the education system,” she said.
Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford applauded Robinson for her work in the program, and the long term impact on children and adults.
Rutherford was so impressed with Robinson’s dance program that she featured it in her newsletter “The Rutherford Report,” and included the program in videos highlighting “Everyday Heroes” in the community.
She described Robinson as an amazing teacher, who has motivated many young people by sharing her love of dance. She said she is still in touch with Robinson’s dance students from over 20 years ago.
“The course of their lives was changed because of the life skills and confidence they learned from her. The sort of engagement and inspiration that comes from performing arts classes is transformational, and our entire education system and economy is worse off when we marginalize the arts,” Rutherford said.