TAMPA – When the students from Sullivan Elementary School in Tampa perform their pirate-themed ballet at the Straz Center Thursday morning, their talents will be center stage. However, for many, it’s their challenges as homeless children that’s giving them an experience they might not otherwise have.

“For some of my students, this may be the only area they’re excelling in right now,” said Sullivan Elementary Principal Daphne Fourqurean. “So, when you’re able to go out there and perform, and you know that they’re very intelligent—they’re able to memorize those steps, which helps them in the classroom to learn those memorization skills that you need to be successful.”

About 130 students from the school have spent the last 35 weeks practicing for their performance. The Patel Conservatory has partnered with the school to offer dance instruction free of charge.

The students have also been outfitted with costumes and ballet slippers.

“Some kids I know will take what they’ve learned in class, whether it’s how to stand, how to walk, and take that with them in their life,” said dance instructor Jane Geddings. “From the tiniest kindergartener being a parrot to the biggest fifth grader being so gentle with them, they really do support each other, they help each other, they love each other, and this experience for them [brings] them together to see that they’re not alone.

Not all students at Sullivan are homeless, but many do not have stable shelter, and many others have faced housing challenges in the past. Sullivan assists by partnering with Metropolitan Ministries, which sits right across the street. The school takes in all children from the shelter, in addition to students from the community.

“Our school is run a little different,” said Fourqurean. “We are small. Our capacity is 150, but our students need that. They come with all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of trauma they’ve been through. So, we take extra time with them, and it’s important to love ‘em.”

The students will have two performances on Thursday for staff, family and friends.