Hartland Partnership Center has kids dancing into their future

Story and photo by KATHRYN A. HACKMAN

The University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) Hartland Partnership Center.

As the last school bell rings at Mountain View Elementary and Glendale Middle School, 15 to 25 kids make their way to the University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) Hartland Partnership Center. This is their weekday routine, with afternoons full of experiential learning and creative fun. However, once a week, this creative fun is taken to an entirely new level.

Every Tuesday throughout the year, you can find Kelby McIntyre-Martinez, the program director of professional development at the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, leading a high energy dance and theater class for the Hartland kids.

Through these performing arts classes, the children can talk about social justice, immigration, identity and cultural differences. This is all thanks to the safe outlet of expression that the arts can provide.

“The arts at Hartland transcend language. They transcend background. As a class, we may not fully understand each other, but we are still creating together,” McIntyre-Martinez said.

She describes an afternoon spent at Hartland as “loud, boisterous and “smiley.'” It’s a time that calls participants to live in the moment. It’s an hour that is full of nonstop energy. “The work that I’m able to do at Hartland is just joy,” McIntyre-Martinez said.

However, this reciprocal bond between the University of Utah and west-side residents didn’t always exist.

In 2003 the University of Utah and west Salt Lake City’s diverse neighborhoods were nothing more than cordial acquaintances. Although they were neighbors in the Salt Lake Valley, their interactions were minimal. That all changed in 2004 with the creation of the UNP Neighborhood Partnership Center.

UNP decided the best way to connect with the west side was to move into the Hartland Apartments, which many Glendale residents called home. 

This newly founded collaboration set out to empower the community, 75% of whom are non-native English speakers, through building university connections and promoting education. They began to offer English language instruction, mental health support, citizenship classes, employment workshops, and educational resources.

This campus-community fusion was designed to ensure that those living in the area had access to a wider range of local resources. Over the years, that’s precisely what they’ve done.

With rapid growth and community involvement, UNP eventually moved into a larger building right across the street.

“The role of UNP is to bring together community residents with the University of Utah, and surrounding organizations,” said Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, the director of UNP.

She said that the greatest enablers for those living on the west side are caring communities, quality teachers and schools, cultural services, and places of belonging.

While UNP offers these educational programs for adults, it certainly hasn’t forgotten about the kids.

The UNP Hartland Neighborhood Partnership Center offers a year-round after-school youth program for the children living in the nearby apartments.

UNP’s model is about being involved with the children and investing time into programs that create pathways to higher education.

Abdullah “Tuna” Mberwa moved from Kenya into the Hartland apartments in 2003, one year before UNP became his neighbor. He was one of the first children to experience UNP’s after-school program. Today, he’s the youth center coordinator.

His experiences allow him to connect with the kids in a very unique way. “I don’t want them to just look at me as the program coordinator, but as a mentor,” he said. Not only does he take on the role of mentor, but also that of a tutor.

Hartland staff like Tuna, and occasional volunteer students from the U, can provide the academic and language support that the children may not receive at home.

Homework is a challenging task for students all across the United States. But for the children at Hartland, there’s an added level of complexity. Many of the students come from countries in Africa, South America, Central America, and the Middle East. Therefore, English is not the primary language spoken among their families.

The academic support that UNP provides is crucial.

But after a studious hour well spent, the kids get to let loose with a university partner. These partners — like McIntyre-Martinez, who also is on faculty at the U — are experts in their craft and teach classes in subjects like art, yoga, and science.

On Tuesdays, the children often rush to get their homework done because they know “Miss Kelby” is coming to dance with them.

Through dance, the children can bring their stories and backgrounds to life and blend them with the arts. Together the students fuse their worlds and create original works.

She ends every class by asking the students if there is anything, they’d like to teach her. A few lessons ago, she said three boys from Mexico showed everyone a song from home. Another time she had two boys teach the class a dance from Burundi.

The arts are a crucial part of the after-school youth program. As McIntyre-Martinez said, ”It creates a space where students feel welcomed and valued. It creates an area where you don’t need to speak the same language to come and jam.”

Not only does her class expose the Glendale children to the arts, but also higher education.

One of the courses she teaches at the U is called Theater for Social Action, which takes place at Hartland. Her college students ditch their textbooks for the afternoon and instead experience what teaching in the arts is really like.

They spend the semester working with the children at Hartland, co-creating, and bringing art to life. Both the students and the children end their 16 weeks of preparation with a performance at the Sorensen Unity Center where they receive the applause that every artist seeks.

This exposure to the collegiate world allows the children at Hartland to envision a future in college. 

Over the past 12 years, McIntyre-Martinez has seen the direct impact that Hartland has had on the children living in west Salt Lake City. She knows this reciprocal model that UNP has works because she sees some of her Hartland kids grow up to join her on the university’s campus as college students. She said, “We’re now reaping the fruits of this awesome partnership.” 

%d bloggers like this: