As a fifth grader, Armando Magallan Jr., who goes by A.J, learned to pluck the thick strings of the stand-up bass during an after-school class.
“There was this cartoon I used to watch that showed this cat playing the bass, and I thought, ‘I want to be that groovy cat,’” recalls Magallan, who is preparing to enter The University of Texas at San Antonio to study music.
Whether for acquiring skills that will become lifetime passions or for fun and friendship, extracurricular activities provide avenues for kids of all ages to discover and grow.
School Orchestra: Performing as a Team
When Magallan began playing the bass, his parents didn’t realize how much he would love performing. In fact, before he entered middle school, they became a little tired of helping him haul the bulky instrument and tried to convince him to switch to the French horn. Looking back, his mother, Kim Magallan, is glad he wasn’t persuaded.
“He talked us into letting him continue to play the bass and stay in the orchestra,” she says. “When it was challenging for him to balance both school and music, there were times he wanted to quit, but his music teachers and I encouraged him not to give up.”
As a senior, his accomplishments earned him a spot in the Texas All-State Orchestra as well as music and academic college scholarships. Also rewarding, were the lessons in teamwork, he says.
“We have to practice on our own and as a section,” he says. “We work extremely hard so that we can make sure we are helping one another, so that we can all succeed.”
Tennis: Learning a Lifetime Sport
Preschoolers and teenagers can learn to play tennis at The Tennis Park at Whispering Oaks.
“We provide a tennis club atmosphere where kids can train and learn the sport with their friends,” says Scott Wilbur, director of tennis at The Tennis Park. “For many of them, tennis will become a lifetime physical and social sport.”
For children ages 10 and younger, The Tennis Park uses an instructional system that provides a racquet and court scaled for their size as well as a ball that bounces to a height suitable for their size. Middle and high school students are taught how to elevate their game for competition.
“A lot of the older kids come to train and improve their techniques, strategies and fitness so that they are ready for their school team tryouts,” Wilbur says. “We also help them find city and state tournaments that match their level.”
The regular training and matches associated with tennis open doors for kids to make friends.
“Sharing a common interest in tennis and being part of a team makes the kids feel good,” Wilbur says. “They can always call a friend and play in their neighborhood or park.”
Tennis lessons are offered by various organizations throughout the city, including the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Center. An Internet search for tennis lessons provides a multitude of options.
Chess: Thinking Ahead
From beginner to advanced players, teenagers gather every Thursday afternoon at the Molly Pruitt Library at Theodore Roosevelt High School to sharpen their game of chess.
The skills attained from chess can transfer to all areas of life, says Alex Weinberg, the program’s instructor and a National Master in the United States Chess Federation.
“We help the participants develop their minds and become smarter and more focused,” he explains. “We teach them patience, so that they don’t act on impulse. And we help them to consider the pros and cons of their actions and to evaluate the consequences that follow.”
Sponsored by the Rackspace Foundation, the program has no fee. After school, the kids play each other and receive formal chess lessons from Weinberg. Then they eat pizza and their families are invited to join them for dinner and more playing and instruction. The program is geared for teenagers, but younger children are welcome.
“Chess serves as a bridge to bring together children of different ages,” Weinberg says. “The game helps them to build friendships and to practice good sportsmanship by winning and losing graciously. They also learn from their defeats by motivating themselves to get better.”
To introduce the game to younger children, one of Weinberg’s former chess students gives instruction at chess clubs held at elementary and middle schools that feed into Roosevelt High School.
“Age doesn’t matter in the game of chess,” he says. “Little by little, children learn to focus, visualize, think ahead and analyze situations. We’re teaching them thinking skills, not just the game of chess.”
Dance: Exploring Cultures
For one hour every week, children at the Carver Community Cultural Center are immersed in the artistry of dance as they learn the steps of ballet, hip-hop, praise dance, West African dance and Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art with African origins.
“One of the biggest advantages to dance is that it keeps kids moving and active,” says Phil Castillo, education coordinator at the Carver. “Also, the classes open the students’ minds to a wider range of culture.”
The dance classes are offered on Saturdays to accommodate parents’ weekday work schedules. The winter and summer sessions culminate in a recital held at The Little Carver Civic Center.
“At the beginning of each eight-week session, some of the kids come to class crying. But they are completely different when they perform in front of their family and friends at the recital,” Castillo says. “They are smiling, having fun and enjoying the art form.”
Lisa Y. Taylor is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and mother of three daughters.