“C’mon guys! It’s dance time!” – UGOT Active Kids celebrates 10th Anniversary
How it all started…
In 2007, after reading a number of articles in daily newspapers about the importance and absence of physical activity programs for young children, an established entrepreneur and publisher G. Randall Munger saw an opportunity to develop programming for schools and childcare facilities in Toronto, that would center around dance and yoga. In 10 years that vision has turned into a flourishing company and has changed the lives of thousands of children.
Before launching UGOT Active Kids, Munger had possessed an extensive business experience – he started Homemakers Magazine at the age of 19, which has been one of the leading women’s service magazines in Canada for over 40 years. Then it was Marcom Systems, Canadian House and Home Magazine and Advantex Marketing, a pioneer in the loyalty marketing field. Having such a wide-ranging background in developing start-up businesses and turning them into successful companies, Munger arranged a team of dedicated and creative people who manage the company from an office in Toronto. The founder mentions that finding and putting the right management team together was the most challenging part of growing the business, but today he is pleased to say that UGOT has got a very good team in place.
Our awesome teachers
According to Alena Tuchina, program director and instructor manager of UGOT, teachers are the most valuable asset of the company thus the hiring process is taken very seriously. Some of the main qualifications for the instructors include formal education in dance, experience teaching in a group setting, and extensive experience working with young children. “We look for teachers who are passionate about sharing their knowledge and using their talent to inspire young generations, – Alena says. – People who radiate positive energy, charisma, and bring a sense of excitement and fun with them everywhere they go”.
The positive energy proves to be a key element in the work of UGOT Active kids. The excitement and love for dance of the teachers is very contagious to young kids, who might be reluctant in the beginning or feel shy about joining a group. Business manager Leslie Irwin adds, “Our instructors are keen and energetic, the kids love them and they get great reviews from the teachers and directors at the schools and daycare centers”.
It’s all about discovering a new passion and joy…
Ugot has a roster of 75 teachers across North America, including Jeanette Hedley, who has been with the company for 5 years. With her outgoing positive energy and enthusiasm for teaching dance and yoga, she confesses that the most satisfying part of the job is witnessing students discover a new passion and joy of a new activity, especially when an initially reluctant child announces that ”signing up for yoga was the best decision I ever made.”
So who is responsible for the programs that kids participate in? Although the teachers are provided lesson plans, videos of activities and choreography by UGOT management, there is a lot of room for teachers’ own creativity. “We always encourage our teachers to incorporate their own style while using the tools as a guideline”, says Alena Tuchina. Dance and yoga teacher Regina Ferrara shares that she “really loves” to have that freedom to create and develop her own plans, based on the UGOT Active Kids guidelines.
“Since day one it has always been about the kids!”
So how different are the programs between schools and daycares and how individual is the approach to the needs of kids? “We like to customize our programs for each school or childcare organization based on their goals and expectations, – shares Tuchina – If one of the schools wants to do something special for their graduation, we will make sure that our program is geared towards a performance. In other cases, we could be designing programs geared towards introducing certain concepts and topics to complement curriculum, or just making it as athletic and active as possible to provide an outlet for all that energy that children need to burn after sitting at their desks all day.”
As Leslie Irwin mentions, “since day one it has always been about the kids!’’. Dancing and activities are not only crucial for creativity and burning extra energy in children, but it is a way of liberation and confidence growth for shy children. Regina Ferrara shared a touching story about a great kid, who was deeply shy and was not participating in the beginning. “Little by little, with encouragement and inclusion, he participated more and you could visibly see his confidence grow, not only in our dance sessions but through his interaction with his peers. Now each week he is excited to participate, has a blast and keeps his peers in line when they lose focus “C’mon guys! It’s dance time!”
What does the future look like?
Fun fact – both client account manager Alanna Budhoo and program director Alena Tuchina started their journey with UGOT Active Kids as dance instructors. This might be the reason why the management is very accommodating and flexible in working with the teachers and capable of organizing all the processes so smoothly. Regina Ferrara shares that one of the best parts of working with UGOT Active Kids is the flexibility and choice of opportunities that the company provides in terms of locations and times that work well around teacher’s schedule. “UGOT Active Kids management being wonderful, professional and flexible is a huge bonus. They are well-organized and outstanding in their planning of same-day sessions within the same region, making it possible to transit from one location to the other allowing me to take the full day block of lessons”, shares Ferrara.
Currently, the company is looking at ways to make the systems more automated and to utilize technology to help with behind the scenes tasks of running this business. Business manager Leslie Irwin notes, “Part of having a new system will be the ability to get better reporting as well so we will have a better pulse on how the company is performing in different areas”, which today include Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
What does the future look like for UGOT Active Kids? Unstoppable, G. Randall Munger shares that they have lots of exciting ideas on the drawing board, which include expanding geographically and bringing programs to adults and seniors as well.
Article by Darina Granik