Students Fight to Save Popular Hialeah Gardens Dance Program

A popular, prestigious dance program at a Miami-Dade County school is getting the cut — and the move is upsetting parents and teachers.

Hialeah Gardens High School’s prestigious and award-winning dance team and program, including its coach Adriana Rizzo, were removed by Miami-Dade County Public Schools from next year’s budget.

Rizzo built the program from day one.

“All the girls come to the school for the program, so why cut it if that’s why everyone goes to the school?” said Shanell Lopez, a junior at Hialeah Gardens. 

Lopez has been in the dance program since her freshman year. Now she’s worried it won’t be there during her last year of school.

“Sad, it’s horrible. (Rizzo) helped me a lot most of my techniques and tricks I’ve learned by her, so it’s sad to see her go,” Lopez said.

Lopez’s mom, who has another daughter who was in the same program, can’t believe it.

“I was amazed because Genesis wouldn’t even come out of her room,” said Cecilia Lopez Montgomery. “So to me as a parent, everyone always complains that kids are disrespectful, they’re killing each other, they’re fighting, but you’re taking arts away from the kid. Art brings out the good.”

The dance program and the Goddess team are national champions, winning accolades year after year. But students say they’re not just winning awards, they’re learning lifelong lessons. 

“It has taught me for the future to be responsible and organized,” said Emily Provost, captain of the dance team.

“I learned how to talk to people instead of leaving and to set a bond with different people,” freshman Sophie Martin said.

An alumna who is angry about the cut started a petition to save the coach and program. Jeanette O’Flaherty says the district persuaded her not to bring it up at a board meeting last week, but now she’s talking.

“The reason why they did not want me to speak was that since they were helping the program — if they help one program, they need to help 63 other schools with the same issue,” O’Flaherty said.

A spokesperson for the district did not address that issue but did say the program is being cut because of low enrollment. A statement in part read, “…this was one of the two programs where the teaching positions were identified for potential closure. At that time, the dance teacher, Ms. Rizzo, was informed of the potential surplus. If there is an increase in enrollment for this course, the school may be able to sustain the program.”

“That is a lie. There’s more than 30 girls in that class. My class has at least 40 girls.” Lopez said. She also told NBC 6 that there are eight classes and all of them are full.

The students aren’t done fighting yet. They plan on holding a protest next week in front of the school before class.