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Angie Manzanares
Musical Club students dance to tunes from the musical "Hairspray" during Granite Park's after school Grizzly Academy.

SOUTH SALT LAKE CITY — Bianca Cherenfant doesn’t always have a bad day at school. But when she does, she waits for the music to blare and the colorful lights to shine, and she gets to singing and dancing.

For Jessica Boss, taking the stage didn’t always come naturally. In fact, the once-shy ninth-grader says she didn’t really find her voice until an after-school program at Granite Park Junior High School encouraged her to break out of her shell.

“It has made me less afraid to stand in front of a crowd. It’s given me a boost of confidence. I am happy to stay after school,” she said.

The afternoon Musical Club, headed by teacher Emily Anderson, brings together students from all backgrounds and ethnicities. The school, which has one of the largest migrant populations in the state, created an after-school program — the Grizzly Academy — to encourage students to get involved and take control of their academic grades.

The program, named after the school’s mascot, began three years ago in partnership with the City of South Salt Lake, according to Chad Reinhart, a professional learning specialist at the school. Funds for the program were provided by a grant secured by the city’s recreation department.

The academy runs from 2:45 to 5:25 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The first hour is dedicated to academics. Students who are failing core classes are referred to after-school tutoring, though many simply stay after school for one-on-one instruction. Many of these students eventually choose to stay for the second-hour activities: the Musical Club, intramural sports, cooking, art, dance, Together Everyone Achieves More, wood shop and the Latino Club.

“Our data shows that students who participate in the Grizzly Academy have fewer failing grades and do better on year-end tests that those who do not,” Reinhart said. “We feel confident that the program is making a difference in the lives of our students not only by helping them to succeed academically, but also by providing them with a safe environment and life-enriching activities."

Anderson has seen the fruits of her labor.

“The kids start out shy,” Anderson said. “But soon they are show stoppers. When they get to high school they move on to choir and theater. Music is such a good way to express yourself.”

Anderson started the program after realizing that a lot of students aren’t exposed to the arts. Walk into the school’s auditorium on any given afternoon and you’ll find that is no longer the case.

The musical group not only gives students the opportunity to embrace their inner rock stars; it also gives them a chance to peek back into United States history, a subject that Anderson knows well.

In fact, she was recently selected as the educator of the year by the Utah chapter of the Freedoms Foundation for her ability to get students engaged in history through the use of her musical program.

“Miss Anderson, she's so great,” said student Kelsie Bannon. “She just gives us motivation."

Angie Manzanares is a former teacher and journalist. She currently works for the Granite School District as a public relations specialist. Her hobbies include photography, graphic design, dancing, and screaming at Jazz games.