Little Renzi’s Big Impact

By Rebekah Giambroni

hen the clock strikes three and schools release their students for the day, a gap emerges, as many parents remain at work—leaving children and teens unsupervised during these crucial after-school hours. It is during this time that kids are most at risk of participating in dangerous or risky behavior. The Renzi Education and Art Center provides an alternative environment for students to attend after school and express their creativity and bolster their education.

Affectionately called “Little Renzi,” the Education and Art Center is an extension of the Elisabetta Renzi Child Development Center run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows convent. The Center, located on Egan Street, is in its 26th year of serving the children of our community, primarily in the Highland-Stoner Hill areas. The after-school programs are free to students from K-12 and range from artistic to academic. The instructors are professional artists and certified teachers from various institutions such as LSU School of Medicine and Centenary. “We integrate art with education,” Dr. Belinda Roberson, executive director, said. “We have found that has a strong impact on the students’ learning and provides cultural enrichment.”

Their seven-week sessions are based on the Caddo school system’s calendar and begin at three o’clock with snacks, games, and free time; at four o’clock, lessons begin. Students are enrolled to take two academic classes and one artistic class. On the academic side, the teachers offer tutoring in math, reading, and homework assistance. LSU medical school students volunteer their time to teach science classes and host chess club. Renzi Center students even have a mock television station where they create “Renzi News” videos for their YouTube channel.

On the art side, artist Jay Marks teaches his famous wire sculpting, and the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows offer papier-mâché classes. There is also painting, drawing, sewing and embroidery, cooking, cartooning, gardening, dance, and music lessons. The classes change periodically due to the availability of the artists who teach. During the summer, the Education and Art Center offers themed summer camps to continue kids’ love of learning. Past camps have covered collage and painting, songwriting, filmmaking, and dance.

“This [program] is really needed over here,” Dr. Roberson said. “It gives the kids something constructive to do and keeps them safe during those twilight hours when kids tend to get into trouble, when it’s too late to be in school and too early to be inside. We give them a place to go.” She added that roughly 90 paercent of the students who attend the program improve their math and reading scores. Along with one-on-one tutoring, the software the Center uses tests the gaps in children’s learning and aims to fill them.

The Center can hold up to 60 students and currently has about 40 who attend. They are hoping to raise funds to construct a third building in order to have a dedicated performing arts space for dance and music lessons. In early May, the Education and Art Center will be partnering with the Highland Center for their Give for Good event, where the students will perform and showcase their art.

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