Georgia Middle School Students Perform at Universal and Make a Difference in the Local Community

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Students from the Evans Middle School Chorus in Newnan, GA visited Orlando to perform at Universal Studios and bring aid to Seminole County students.

Students from the Evans Middle School Chorus in Newnan, Georgia recently traveled to Orlando, Florida to perform at Universal CityWalk at the Universal Orlando Resort and enjoy some time in the Universal theme parks. The 160-member chorus performed songs ranging from Philip Phillips’ “Home” to hits by Queen and the BeeGees during their 45-minute performance on Sunday, February 17th. The performance was part of a three-day trip that also included visits to Wet ‘n Wild water park, Universal Studios, and Islands of Adventure. The trip was arranged by chorus director Johnny Holloway through Orlando-based student tour operator Kaleidoscope Adventures. In addition to performing, the students brought along four large boxes of hygiene products to donate to Seminole County’s Families in Transition, which aids homeless children in the Seminole County School District. The students collected the toiletries at each of their concerts throughout the school year and then spent hours of their own time after school counting and bagging them for distribution.

Holloway learned about the high homelessness rate in Seminole County when he caught a 60 Minutes report back in August. “I don’t usually watch 60 Minutes, but my remote got stuck and I happened to catch it. Knowing we were going down there with the chorus, I felt it was fate that my TV got stuck on that program. I knew I couldn’t take a group of kids to Universal to have fun when just a few miles away there were so many kids living like that,” he said.

Sherry Coventry with Families in Transition, who coordinated with Mr. Holloway on bringing the items to Seminole County, said she thought the donation could service at least 50 to 75 families. Coventry shared, “I believe he saw our 60 Minutes piece and showed it to his students” and then called FIT last year for information. She added that, in addition to hygiene products, the program collects food, clothing, school supplies and other items that families need. They also provide services to ensure that children can remain in their school for the school year so that, even if their home life has to change, their school can at least remain constant.

Holloway and his students are no strangers to homelessness. Evans Middle School is a Title I school in Georgia and fifty students in Holloway’s chorus program are homeless themselves. Extensive fundraising was required to make the trip to Orlando possible, especially for children whose families have trouble with day-to-day expenses. Fundraising efforts included a yard sale, a dinner at the Olive Garden, and a candy sale. The candy sale alone raised $6,000.

On the importance of bringing middle school aged students on a major trip like this, Holloway said, “The middle school years are the time that [students] make the decision whether they are going to continue through high school or if they are going to drop out. Trips like these help spark so much of an interest that [it] helps them get through their high school years and help them become successful in the future. The students that traveled here to Orlando, for many of them it’s their first time out of a very small town. It could be possibly their only experience…to see a different world out there. Hopefully it will spark an interest in furthering their education, to get a good education, to get a good job.”

Kaleidoscope Adventures’ Robin Parker, who served as tour director for the Evans group and was with them every day, was extremely impressed with how polite, well-behaved, and well-rehearsed the students were. “Almost every one of these students said thank you to me, to their director, to the bus driver, and the people at the hotel. In 25 years of planning student trips, I’ve never seen anything like that,” Parker said. She was also impressed with the students’ performance etiquette.

On the experience of traveling to Universal to perform the kids were very enthusiastic. “I just love performing in front of people and I had never been [to Orlando], so I just figured ‘hey, why not?’” said one 8th grade chorus student. Added another, “I really love chorus and a lot of my friends are here and [I thought] getting to spend time with them here would be really fun. I think [our performance] showed a lot of progress from where we started when we learned the songs and I personally hit a note that I’d never been able to sing before so I’m really proud of myself for that.”

About Evans Middle School Chorus
Evans Middle School in Newnan, Georgia is a Title I Distinguished School and a recipient of the 2012 GAMSP Effective Middle School Award. The Evans Middle School Chorus performs major concerts in the fall and spring, as well as special programs for events such as Veterans’ Day and Black History Month, in Newnan.

About Families in Transition
Through grant funding from the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the Families in Transition Program was established in April 2003 to serve the educational needs of children in the Seminole County School System who are considered homeless. Families in Transition is serving those students who, by definition, "lack a fixed, regular and adequate residence; or have a primary nighttime residence that is temporary in nature; or is a place not designed or used ordinarily as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings." Involvement of the family, the school, as well as the community on behalf of the homeless students, is a primary goal of the Families in Transition Program - one that helps to create a comprehensive and continuous program to meet the needs of this particular student population. This program works towards family stability and student success in school. The program is run by Beth Davalos. (from Seminolehomelesskids.org)

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Steve Brinkman
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