LOS ANGELES — Jake Rojas' walk to school looks a lot different today than it did just a year ago.
"Instead of walking to school, you have to log onto your computer and get it," he explained. "Sometimes the computer doesn't wanna work."
Navigating distance learning has come with its share of challenges, especially during a pandemic, where math equations are the least of his and many other kids' problems.
"I had to get used to all this happening," Jake said. "With the pandemic coming, I had to get used to having social distancing and wearing masks. It's stressing trying to log on."
Despite the stress, his class of fifth-graders at Wisdom Elementary School has made the most of their Friday mornings — where Jake said they get to breathe a sigh of relief thanks to a class called Dance and Dialogue.
"There's no tests or anything. Miss Ricka just wants everyone to get to know each other by sharing stories and telling how we feel," he said.
Dance and Dialogue is a program that was started by Ricka Kelsch seven years ago.
The nonprofit uses dance as an artistic outlet for kids of all demographics, allowing movement to be the means of releasing tension and frustration.
Kelsch puts on both an all-city workshop and runs a residency program like the weekly class at Wisdom.
"We use dance as a tool for communication," Kelsch said. "As a way to decrease anxiety and stress and those get traded in for joy and purpose."
The class is less about dancing and more about having a conversation, although, as Kelsch said, movement is the perfect platform for getting kids out of their shells.
"A lot of these students don't like to get out of their seats, their hoodies are up, they're folding their arms," she explained. "So we start working with them at the desk, we do drumming, we might start doing some finger tutting."
By integrating dance and other fun activities, she can encourage them to talk about how they feel and share their stories.
"This gives them purpose," she said. "Here's a moment that we offer them to laugh together, move together, and shake things off."
It's an invaluable tool during these unprecedented times, where many children like Jake are under increased stress.
"It's more calming to me than the other ones and makes my mood a bit brighter," he said.