- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2008

For underprivileged students in the District, fairy-tale endings are rare.

But this summer, 300 are acting out their own fairy tales and growing personally in the process.

The Youth Leadership Foundation (YLF) runs a summer camp for boys and girls across the city that targets students that it says are often overlooked by the school system and the community.

“The camp offers a unique focus on character and person formation,” said Angela Albrecht, director the Program for Academic Leadership and Skills (PALS). “It’s both a cultural experience and a way for kids to seek excellence.”

As part of the five-week program, which encourages the poorest D.C. youths to enhance their education and personal growth, 140 girls are attending the day camp.

YLF also sponsors a camp for boys of the same age called the Tenley Achievement Program. Both programs are available to students from fourth through 10th grades.

Sidney Coleman, 12, of Holy Comforter boarding school, was a dancer in the musical “Happily Ever After” that the girls’ camp staged.

“They teach us things for ninth graders, and you know what? They’re easy. I didn’t know I was that smart,” said Miss Coleman.

The show takes several popular fairy tales beyond their fairy-tale endings. Let’s just say that all is not sugar and spice for Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella in “Happily Ever After.” It’s a reality check that is not lost on these students.

“This is a really great play, show’s you how fairy tales are nice, but real life is, well, more real.” said Amber Etienne-Best, 13, an eighth grader at Hope Community Charter School.

Throughout the five-week long program, students take academic and cultural classes such as art, drama, music and dance. The classes are taught by teachers from charter schools across the District.

“I’m really attached to the program because it enhances children academically and promotes character building,” said Rosie Wilson, an English teacher at the Hope Community.

In addition to classes, students attend lectures from prominent speakers, including former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican, NBC 4’s Tracee Wilkins and National Public Radio’s Juan Williams.

“We bring speakers that can provide a professional and personal education for the kids,” said Ms. Albrecht. “They teach about perseverance and obstacles, as well as set examples.”

The program is for youths who are overlooked in school, but still have great potential, Ms. Albrecht said. She recalled a young girl who said acting in the play revealed a confidence to perform that she didn’t think she had.

“It’s about their character building, and what they show us they can do with their potential,” Ms. Albrecht said.

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