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At Willard Alternative High School, this fall's Flagship Program after-school activities started with a visit from Edson “Bboy House” Magana, a hip-hop, break dancing and graffiti specialist from Phoenix.

Melissa Madsen, the Flagship coordinator at Willard, said the two-day session with Magana, who is an artist-in-residence at the University of Montana this semester, is an example of the partnership the program has with UM.

Karen Kaufmann, a professor in the UM School of Theatre and Dance, reached out to Flagship and asked if there was something Magana could do for Missoula schools.

“The school had asked the students what they wanted to learn, they said they wanted to try hip-hop and they just didn’t have professors to teach that,” Madsen said.

On Tuesday, Magana held an after-school program focused on break dancing, similar to the workshops he has been holding for dance students at UM. On Wednesday, he visited a music class to talk about the history of hip-hop, and at the end of the day worked with an art class to spray paint a mural with the name of the school.

Work on the graffiti project was scheduled to continue after classes were released, but most of the students left the campus shortly after the end of the day.

Nicole Mitchell, Flagship’s program supervisor, said one of the most difficult things about after-school programs, particularly at the high school level, is getting students to stay after classes are excused for the day.

Part of the solution is to have the high school sessions only be a few days or weeks, as opposed to the semester-long activities at the elementary and middle school level.

“Part of it is the weather, part of it is working hard to find programs they get really involved in, or oftentimes they won’t stick around,” Mitchell said.

Last year, more than 2,100 students in Missoula participated in Flagship activities, Mitchell said.

Magana, who normally teaches urban dance courses at Arizona State University, said his visit to Missoula has been met with friendly locals, and he was encouraged by the interest Willard students in Wednesday’s classes showed in hip-hop culture and graffiti, which he terms “aerosol art.”

“It’s still a young culture, but you can’t ignore the influence and reach it is having,” he said. “We talked about how you want to be different from everybody else, it’s OK to stand out and be the one weird kid.”

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This week, the Flagship Program started its 20th year conducting free after-school and summer youth programs in Missoula.

Nick Roberts, program director for Flagship, said it began as a pilot program at C.S. Porter Middle School to address community concerns about the at-risk time period for students in the hours after school ended for the day.

One issue it was specifically meant to tackle was substance abuse prevention.

“Prevention doesn’t have to mean don’t go do this, don’t go do that, I’m going to scare you by telling you the impact this has. What Flagship has embraced is something more indirect, the building up of protective factors like positive adult mentorship, connection to school and to your peers,” Roberts said.

Flagship, a part of the Western Montana Mental Health Center, now has a full-time employee in eight different schools in the Missoula County Public Schools district.

“We have become a youth enrichment program that does a lot of individual and collective development,” he said.

On Friday, Oct. 2, Flagship will host a 20th anniversary party at Big Dipper Ice Cream from 5 to 7 p.m. In addition to free ice cream and live music, Roberts said speakers every 15 minutes will share a story about their experience with Flagship.

“There are going to be current participants, as well as people who have weaved in and out of the program as students, volunteers and coordinators,” he said.

Looking to the future, Roberts said the primary goal for Flagship is finding ways to keep all of its programs entirely cost-free to students and their families.

“That’s an annual struggle, to keep our funding innovative enough to underwrite that model,” he said.

Flagship is also putting an emphasis on finding better ways to tell the story of what it is doing in the community, and Roberts said the organization is already planning student-led ways to talk about how Flagship is changing lives for the better.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.