In the East New York section of Brooklyn, there is a group of 20 students in grades three through eight from the UFT Elementary Charter School, located at 300 Wyona St., that is very excited. These students are the members of the UFT Elementary Charter School’s step team, the United Steppers, and they are excited because they made the cut to compete in the Disney Step Classic in Orlando, Fla., an annual step competition that will take place during the February school break, from Feb. 17-20. The team’s step teacher, Selma Withingham, learned of the competition while looking online. She sent pictures of the team and an essay to say why they should be admitted into the competition.
Withingham has been performing and teaching step for 10 years. She was the captain of her high school step team at Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn, formed a step team at Beulah Church of the Nazarene, was a cheerleader at Medgar Evers College and taught step at Motivated Minds Daycare. She is currently working with the students as the step teacher for the UFT Elementary Charter School’s YMCA after-school program. Withingham shared that the team has competed in both Manhattan and the Bronx and has won seven first place trophies in step competitions, including Building Unity on two occasions and the Tidal Wave competition three times. The two other first place wins were against step teams from neighboring schools.
The step team meets on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays for three hours a day, according to Withingham. She shared that being part of the team teaches the students more than step. “It teaches them dedication, teamwork, respect, discipline and to be confident in what they do,” said Withingham.”
“I like being on the team because I’ve never had the opportunity to do step before,” said Nyla Durant, a third grader. “I’ve learned you have to work hard and do your best, and I’ve learned how to better concentrate,” Durant added.
Eighth grader Soraya Senior said, “Being on the team helps me learn responsibility, but I also have a lot of fun.”
While the team has been practicing diligently for the competition, the school has been fundraising to collect the $22,000 needed to pay for the trip. They have raised money through donations from local businesses and individuals, including C-Town Supermarket, Health One Pharmacy, the UFT African Heritage Committee, the PTA, the YWCA, Mr. and Mrs. Hammerman and the Make the Grade Foundation.
“Parents of students on the team were asked to pay $150 per child. The school also held a step show last weekend. We have been selling calendars and T-shirts. We also had bake sales and movie nights. We will also have a sumo wrestling night,” explained Althea Headlum, the assessment coordinator at the UFT Charter School.
With the trip so near, the United Steppers have raised $19,000 and are in need of assistance from the public to raise the remaining $3,000. Anyone interested in donating to the United Steppers can contact the school by calling (718) 922-0438 and asking to speak to Ms. Headlam or send her an email at email@example.com or write a check payable to The UFT Charter School/United Steppers and mail it to the UFT Charter School, 300 Wyona St., Brooklyn, NY 11207 Attn: Althea Headlam.
“Donations are tax deductible,” said Headlam. “The school is extremely proud of the United Steppers. They demonstrate community through participation in many events. They also must achieve good grades in order to remain on the team. As a team, they have worked hard to prepare for the competition and are very excited about competing.”