FOREST PARK, Ga. -- Not all teachers can get sixth, seventh and eighth graders spending an hour or two each day jumping and kicking at least an hour a day during the school day.
"Toes should be touching your knees," Melissa Colon said to her students at Babb Middle School as she put them through the paces.
Colon teaches dance at Babb, where arts is part of the curriculum and throughout each day. Colon leads 130 students through all aspects of dance, primarily ballet.
"I've been dancing my whole life," she said. "My mom enrolled me in tap when I was 4 years old."
For years, Colon taught health in Clayton County Schools, but when the dance curriculum began four years ago at Babb, she leaped at the chance not just to teach the moves, but offer students some life lessons, such as getting them to believe in their abilities.
"Just to know when we do our shows, they can get up in front of people," Colon said.
Dance, she said, can also help teenagers cope emotionally.
"We talk of dancing out their emotions," Colon said. "And some kids hold things inside. You never know what's going on at home. You never know who comes to school upset."
Best of all, dance is exercise.
"Sometimes in sixth grade we order jazz pants and by 8th grade the jazz pants are too big on them. They actually lose weight over the course of two years, instead of gain," said Colon, an 11Alive Class Act Winner.
In addition to the middle school students, after school, Colon works with a dance team at Forest Park High School.
"We'll be going to the nationals in Orlando in February," she said. "We're hoping to make finals."
"She treats them with respect and she expects high things from them and challenges them greater than they thought they could ever go even themselves," said Julie Brown, Assistant Principal.
"What you learn in dance, you need (to) translate onto your life," said Colon. "If you expect out of yourself and the best for yourself, you're going to get it."