Kidberry Brings Ballet, Foreign Language Classes to Harlem Kids

By Jeff Mays on November 21, 2011 1:00pm 

Baby Rowan and Aklil share a drum in Kidberry's music class.
Baby Rowan and Aklil share a drum in Kidberry's music class.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — Mekia Denby and Pamela Flood Morrison knew there was a demand for learning and developmental classes for children in Harlem.

Denby, the mother of 4-year-old and 18-month-old daughters, had opened up a franchise of the early childhood music organization "Music Together" in Harlem in 2008, and her classes were always full, but there were few other outlets for kids in the neighborhood.

She decided to open her own education and play space called Kidberry.

"It came out of the idea that I wanted the same great classes you had on the Upper West Side," said Denby, 28, of Harlem.

Denby met the woman who would help her make that dream a reality when Morrison, 41, signed her three-year-old son Max up for some of Denby's classes at "Music Together" in Harlem. The pair developed a friendship and decided to become partners in 2010.

"I was tired of getting in my car and going downtown. There was nothing going on. There was nothing to do," said Morrison.

"Harlem is changing. There was a need for a Kidberry and it was not there," Morrison added.

But when the women went to seek loans and space to house their new business, no one was interested. Banks simply weren't giving loans to new businesses, even with assistance from the city's small business development program.

And when they wanted space in a hot location on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, landlords there told them they were only interested in restaurants.

Instead, the women decided to pool their own money and open up Kidberry earlier this month at 2046 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., between West 122nd and West 123rd streets.

Inside the cozy but colorful space is a kiddie salon, a kitchen for planned cooking classes for parents and children, and a room with a padded floor for parents and kids to jump, dance, play and learn.

Denby, who was a political science major at Columbia University, is the creative partner and Morrison, who has a Master's degree in accounting and is the former financial director for Tommy Boy Music, handles the financial end.

The women agreed that more and more parents in the area were looking to have their kids be as prepared as possible for school. At the same time, arts, dance and music programs are facing cuts in public schools.

Kidberry offers everything from foreign language classes to "My Mini School," a 90-minute class designed to introduce toddlers to school. The schedule also includes hip-hop dance classes, ballet and art classes as well as holiday camps scheduled to keep kids busy when school is out, and when their parents are still at work.

The school accepts students up to 10-years-old. Each class is capped at a maximum of 10 kids, and classes last between 10 and 12 weeks.

At one music class, instructor Valerie Evering led four kids ranging from 8 months  to 2-years-old in a series of exercises where they danced, sang and played instruments with their caregivers. There were a couple of grandmothers and a mom in attendance with their toddlers.

"It's amazing to see the growth over just one semester," said Evering.

During her class, the kids and their caregivers played the xylophone, danced in a circle and did a creative version of the "Itsy Bitsy Spider."

"When children are having fun, they'll want to do it over and over again," said Morrison.

Elsa Fessahaye, who brought her 17-month-old daughter Aklil to the class, said that was the case.

"When she knows we are coming she starts raising her arms in the air and singing. She really looks forward to the music and the dancing," said Fessahaye.

Yvonne Milliner said her 2-year-old grandson Zakhur has become more socially interactive since he began classes at Kidberry.

"At home, when he wakes up, he'll start singing. He'll look to me or his mother and father and expect them to start singing as well," said Milliner.

Marian Stern said her 10-month-old grandson Rowan is starting to recognize music more and realize its something you dance to. Stern said there was a dual benefit to the class.

"This is my gym class. I call it the Rowan workout system and I like it better than aerobics," Stern said after dancing around the room carrying her grandson. "Every kid should have an opportunity to try this."

Denby says starting small has allowed them to keep classes relatively affordable. From Dec. 12 to the 18th, Kidberry is offering free classes.

"I know what it's like to see a program and not be able to  afford it," said Denby.

The Harlem Children's Zone recently won a grant to send 81 of its parents to music classes at Kidberry.

"Everyone is important here," said Denby. "We live in this neighborhood and we want to be successful here."

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