June 27, 2023

The Three Women Behind Trinity Prep Center

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Trinity Prep Center. This Kalamazoo- based dance studio was recently honored with a 2023 Champ Award. [You can watch a short clip of this year’s Champ event here.]

“Not your ordinary dance studio,” Trinity Prep Center was founded in 2014 by three dynamic and passionate women: Carmilla Little, Courtney Wrenn, and Adiah Jones. They have been collaborating with CIS for the past four years and during that time, students in CIS After School have had the opportunity to experience their “On the Move” program at Washington Writers’ Academy, Lincoln International Studies School, El Sol Elementary, Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts, Northglade Montesssori Magnet School, Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, and Milwood Magnet Middle School. Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids is pleased to introduce you to this fantastic trio behind this most extraordinary dance studio.

Alright, Trinity Prep Center: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

How did the three of you meet up? Are you all originally from Kalamazoo?

Courtney [TPC’s Ballet, Tap, and Jazz Instructor]: We originally all met at Mount Zion Baptist Church. We were doing Youth Praise Dance Ministry. I’m from Saginaw and what brought me here was work. I did travel physical therapy. Then I joined Mount Zion and then went back to school at Cornerstone University … Carmilla and I both have background in dance and it was Adiah who came up with idea for us to start up a dance studio.

Adiah [TPC’s Business Administrator]: I’m from Chicago. I came to Kalamazoo to go to Western Michigan University and never went back home. I studied psychology and that led me to a career in child welfare. And now that I’m retired, I’m a full-time entrepreneur.

Carmilla [TPC’s Hip Hop and Acro Instructor]: I was born here but moved and lived in Southfield [a suburb of Detroit]. I came back to Kalamazoo and attended Kalamazoo Central High School. I’m a Giant!

What does a typical enrichment class look like for kids who are participating in Trinity Prep’s class during CIS Afterschool?

Adiah: I’ll start and then pass it over to Carmilla as she is the face as well as the one that interacts with the CIS students. The program that Trinity Prep Center runs in the school is called “TPC On the Move.” This program extends our dance opportunities programming into the schools through CIS. Ms. Courtney does a similar program that Ms. Carmilla does, but within a preschool setting.

Carmilla: I’ll start each session off with a teambuilding exercise or icebreaker designed to help me get to know the children better and to get them to interact with each other. Our mission talks about positive influence, so I come in and use my positive influence to connect with them. And they listen. Talking with them, getting them to know and be comfortable with me, gets them wanting to dance and do better in school because of the conversations we have. After that, we always do a warm up, then stretching, and then four to five eight-counts of a dance and then, after that, allow for them to just have fun with it.

It sounds like relationship building is a big part of what you are doing during your time with the kids.

Carmilla: Yes.

For students who participate in your “On the Move” in CIS afterschool, there are a number of benefits for students participating in your classes. Obviously, physical benefits, but others as well. Can you speak about some of these?

Courtney: Yes, physical benefits like flexibility and strength building. Dance, in general, has also been known to improve individual math skills.

Carmilla: Dance definitely makes a positive impact on social emotional skills. And we see gross motor skills improving.

Adiah: Hand-eye coordination.

Carmilla: You took that right out of my mouth!

Adiah: My bad!

Courtney: Balancing improves as well as critical and creative thinking. In our On the Move classes, we encourage the students to create movement by adding in pieces to a dance and to partner with other people, to team up to do some choreography together.

[While a number of studies explore the physical, social emotional, academic, and other benefits young people can gain from dance, here’s one report worth checking out should you want to know more: Evidence: A Report on the Impact of Dance in the K-12 Setting.]

There’s more than dance going on during dance sessions, isn’t there?!

Carmilla: Yes. For instance, in this last session I ran, we had a situation where one young man was being teased. He had the courage to get up there and dance, but some of the kids made fun of him. So I turned the music off. “Oh, my!” I said, and they all looked at me like, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, “I was under the impression that you guys were all respectful of each other and understood that you were all at different levels when it came to dance. And I just knew you knew that we were always wanting to fill each other’s bucket. And the way we do that is by encouraging everyone. We fill their bucket. And maybe if we can’t say anything nice, we shouldn’t say anything at all, right?” And they’re like, “Yeah, yeah.” And so I started the music up again, and that young man got up again and he danced, and all of them started screaming and cheering for him.”

They filled up his bucket! So important and wonderful that you take the opportunity to have those types of direct discussions with the kids about their behavior in the moment. At CIS, we take into account the whole child. And TCP seems to have the same approach. In this situation you just described, it’s not just about learning particular steps to a dance. It’s also about how we treat each other as we are learning.

Adiah: Right.

In hearing the word “dance,” improvement in attendance doesn’t necessarily leap into one’s mind, but that’s one of the impacts your program has had for some of the CIS students, particularly the young men. Because they look forward to your classes, they come to school.

Carmilla: We do have many boys excited about dance now. At Woods Lake, I think this is the first time we have as many boys as we have girls. And the boys are in the front, saying, “My turn.” “Can I do it again?” “Wanna see me do that again?”

Adiah: One of the things we really appreciate about being with CIS is that, in all our years of dance, it was always a struggle to get boys into the studio. The idea of dance sounded really girly to them. When they would think of “dance,” they would just think “ballet.” We had a whole campaign of “Boys Dance Too” and that boys could come for free. That didn’t work, either. But now, we are coming to them through CIS. And now the boys are like, “Yeah, I want to do that too! I want to be a part of this.”

A recent study (published in JAMA Pediatrics in which researchers analyzed data from the National Survey of Children’s Health) found that from 2019 to 2020, researchers found a 21 percent increase in children with behavior or conduct problems. Children’s physical activity decreased by 18 percent between 2016 and 2020. What do you make of this? Have you seen this play out in your work?

Carmilla: What I’m seeing in each dance session is that, overall, their behavior is better after Covid. Where the kids are now, they are really adamant about doing what they need to do in school so they can continue to participate.

I feel good about that because through Covid, we were really trying to make it work. When we shifted from in-person and went virtual with the kids, it was challenging. They were laying down and just watching the screen. Trying to get them up and motivated. Some would. Some wouldn’t. It was just a difficult time. “If they could just experience it in person,” I kept saying to myself, “they would love it!”

And then, going back into the schools, kids would come up and say, “We did virtual with you! We loved it.” “Did you get up and dance?” I’d ask them. And some would say, “No, I didn’t dance, but I still liked it!”

CIS site staff tell us that what they are learning during their dance class ends up translating in positive way into their academic and home life.

Carmilla: Several of the CIS coordinators have shared how dance is benefiting kids and that they are doing better. At Washington, a young lady was having difficulty—and was almost kicked out of school—and her site coordinator talked to her about her behavior and reminded her that her behavior needed to improve so she could stay in school and keep doing dance. That was kind of like a trigger for her and she started doing better in anticipation that she could dance and keep seeing me.

On your Instagram site, you note that the definition of a dance teacher is “someone who doesn’t know what one more time means.” Can you unpack that for us a bit?

Carmilla: That would be me. Just ask my kids and they will tell you that I’m always saying, “One more time!”

Courtney: One more time to get it right. Nope. One more time. Whoops. Almost! One more time.

Carmilla: They are like, “You always say one more time!” And the older students will warn the newer students. I’ve heard them say, “When they say one more time, that doesn’t mean one more time.”

Adiah: That’s comparable to a preacher saying, “I won’t be before you long.” That means its going to be a while!

What are you all currently reading?

Carmilla: How Full is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton.

Adiah: Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People: Doing Business the Chick-fil-A Way by Truett Cathy.

Courtney: The Bible. Also, a book on procrastination. but I haven’t started reading it yet. [Everyone laughs.]

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been one of your caring adults?

Carmilla: My caring adult is my cousin. I don’t just call her my cousin. I call Khalitha Russell my sister-cousin-best friend. She is definitely inspiring, always pushing for me. She is my cheerleader in the front, the back, the side of me, all the way around me, supporting me any way she can.

Adiah: It’s hard to narrow down to just one person. I’ll say my parents because they are huge cheerleaders of mine in the background. And my pastor, my husband, and my kids. It’s hard to pick one of them because they all place such integral parts in who I am today.

Courtney: I will have to say my brothers, Carl Williams and Alonzo McCarroll. They came to one of our performances. And now, every time I talk with my one brother, now he thinks he can teach a class. “I got this idea!” You should try this!” And my other brother, he just keeps talking about it. “You girls did really well!”

All three women possess an entrepreneurial spirit. In addition to Trinity Prep Center, they each own and run their own side businesses.

Ms. Carmilla owns Milly Merch Crafts, creating custom attire and designs. (To consult with her on your desired customized merchandise, email millymerch.crafts@gmail.com for consultation of your desired customized merchandise.)

Ms. Courtney owns CWrenn Empowerment and Fitness. As a personal trainer, she offers group adult fitness classes and designs athletic wear. (Go to www.cwrennempowerment.com for more information.)

Ms. Adiah owns Labor of Love Scrubs LLC, a local retail store selling medical uniforms and accessories. (Visit 1020 E. Cork Street in Kalamazoo to check out the inventory.)

So when you aren’t running your dancing business or individual businesses, what do you enjoy doing in your “free time?”

Adiah: Eating Chick-Fil-A! And playing Double Dutch.

Carmilla: I have to use my hands, create a tutu or sew something, or do hair.

Courtney: Brainstorming new ideas!

With your brothers!

Courtney: [Laughing] Yes! What about starting this? Or what about that? We’re always asking. And I’ll do ball room dancing and Chicago-style stepping and line dancing. I can’t get away from dancing or fitness.

Thank you, Adiah, Courtney, and Carmilla, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

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