Years ago I had the pleasure of working with Jacques D’Amboise, the great New York City ballet dancer who performed under Balanchine. When his performing days were over, D’Amboise started an organization called National Dance Institute. D’Amboise believed that the arts had a unique power to engage and motivate young kids toward excellence. Initially he was met with skepticism. How many inner city boys would want to learn to dance? Three decades later, however, NDI transforms the lives of 35,000 New York City public school kids every year, teaching them the art, discipline and joy of dance.
While NDI never successfully expanded beyond New York City, it created a model that in some ways is now being replicated by David Eggers and friends. Eggers founded a group known as 826 Valencia in San Francisco to tutor young students in writing and literacy. Now 826 is national, a family of seven nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping students, ages 6-18, with expository and creative writing at seven locations across the country. Its belief is simply that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.