When Mitzi Yates returned my call last week, the first thing she said was, "Now I do believe in Santa Claus!"
What had gotten Mitzi so excited? The news that the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where Mitzi is principal, will benefit from your generosity.
If you haven't already designated your child's school as the beneficiary of such grocery store programs as Giant's A+ Bonus Bucks or the Safeway Club for Education, please help us help Ellington.
In the past two years, readers of this column have earmarked more than $20,000 for D.C. schools such as Ballou and M.M. Washington. This year it's Ellington's turn, chosen because it posted the best increase in attendance among District schools.
You would expect attendance to be high at Ellington. It's the city's arts magnet high school, offering programs in dance, theater, technical theater, museum studies, visual arts, literary media, vocal music and instrumental music.
So, it's a school that offers its students a lot. But it needs a lot, too. Ellington's day is longer than at most schools, with the first class starting at 8:35 a.m. and the last -- a vocal class -- ending after 6 p.m. That means a lot of wear and tear on the building. The school mounts productions -- plays, recitals, literary festivals -- that aren't cheap to produce.
Said Mitzi: "The bottom line is, it costs more money to run a public arts high school than a traditional school." At a time when arts education is being cut back in so many places, we're lucky to have a school like Ellington in our midst.
Who goes to Ellington? Talented kids. Some 500 applicants vie for 140 spots every year.
But being a good dancer or a good singer doesn't necessarily make one a good student. Mitzi said the academic abilities of the incoming freshmen run the gamut, from kids who read at the college level to those with the skills of a fourth-grader.
"We have a lot of work to do in order to close that deficiency gap so those students can go on to a conservatory at the college level or a liberal arts college, if they choose to do that," she said. Last year, all but one Ellington senior graduated, and all the graduates went to college.
Famous Ellington alumni include mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and comedian Dave Chappelle. There are plenty more, too, who are earning a living using skills they acquired at this unique high school.
"When I turn on the TV and I'm watching 'Law & Order,' I see alumni," said Mitzi. "Our kids went to see 'Sweet Charity' on Broadway, and there was one of our alumni in the cast."
Mitzi is a local girl. She grew up in Takoma and attended Holy Trinity, in Georgetown, right around the corner from Ellington. She was a dance major at New York University and then danced with several modern dance companies.
I asked Mitzi if her students could believe their principal actually was, you know, a performer. She laughed.
"I love teenagers," Mitzi said, "and the world of teenagers is immediate. It's what is right in front of them. They are so self-absorbed, and appropriately so. I get such a kick out of them. I remember a couple of years ago a student had a role in Washington Ballet's 'Nutcracker.' I was so thrilled, I walked up and did a little tour de basque. . . . This little kid said, 'Miss Yates, you still got it going on. I can't believe it' -- like I was a relic."
The 51-year-old isn't a relic. In fact, she's a newlywed. That means that after six years at Ellington, she's moving soon with her new husband to San Diego. Her students will miss her.
The school is already signed up with Safeway (the school's number is 149191023), Giant (00074), Harris Teeter (5912) and Target (39613). It will soon be part of the program run by Food Lion, too.
Closing Up Camp
When I printed my last Send a Kid to Camp column in July, I promised that I'd let you know if the money continued to come in. It has, and though we didn't reach our goal of $650,000, we still raised $537,740.72.
What does it mean that we fell short? A program where at-risk kids from the Washington area visit Camp Moss Hollow on fall and winter weekends will be canceled. But none of the sessions over the summer was curtailed, and no kids who wanted to attend were turned away.
The fiscal year for Family and Child Services, the nonprofit that runs Moss Hollow, ends Sept. 30. That means there's still time to have your contribution counted in this year's campaign. If you'd like to donate, make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Family and Child Services, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.
Waves of Support for Katrina
Since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, nearly $800 million has been donated to the Red Cross. From whom is the money coming?
All sorts of people. Metro employees contributed $40,000 in a single week. For three mornings in a row, fourth- and fifth-graders at the Jefferson School in Gaithersburg sold doughnuts, pastries, muffins, bagels, banana bread, orange juice and coffee, raising $976.18 in the process.
"I've never seen students work so hard," said teacher Susan Gooch.
When she heard about the disaster, Myung Soo Kim pooled her donation with those of the customers who shop at the food service facilities she runs in the District and Virginia and the employees who work there. Her efforts were good for $1,080.