From handstands to cartwheels and trapeze, kids do it all at Seattle’s School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts, also known as SANCA.

They are building a strong foundation for a lifetime of healthy physical activity, of course an important goal for Jo Montgomery, who has been a nurse practitioner at Odessa Brown Children's Clinic for the last 27 years.

"I was working with so many kids at Odessa Brown who didn't have access to exercise," Montgomery said.

Montgomery helped open SANCA in 2004 with just five students. Today, 900 kids come here every week, and 20 percent of them are on scholarships.

"Because I had been with Children's for so long, I thought well of course if they can't pay,” Montgomery said, of course, “We will provide scholarships, and Children's has helped support the school every year since it opened."

Nine years ago, Montgomery took on a new challenge when a patient's mother asked her to work with her son, who uses a wheelchair.

"Together we figured out how to make things work for him," Montgomery said.

From there, she has worked with lots of kids with emotional and physical challenges, including Rene Munoz, who is blind.

"I asked the parents what sort of exercise he was doing, and they looked at me strangely,” Montgomery said. “I said, ‘He's healthy. He's able to be active. He just doesn't see.’"

But how do you teach a child to do a handstand when they can't watch the instructor do it first or do a cartwheel when they can't even grasp the concept of flipping themselves upside down?

"Sure there is special attention for spotting and maybe explaining,” Montgomery said. "I feel like their activities are only limited by the imagination of the instructor."

SANCA has become a second family for many of its students.

"SANCA has just been this amazing community throughout my life,” said Naomi Marteeny, who came to SANCA eight years ago as part of a therapy camp. She needed therapy to strengthen the right side of her body, which was left weakened after a suffering a stroke at birth.

Now she's Montgomery's assistant coach, teaching kids with her same disability.

“There's a self confidence that comes with being able to do skills, so a kid that learns to do a handstand or learns how to juggle or do tricks on the trapeze is going to feel more confident in every aspect of their life,” Montgomery said.

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Seattle Children's Odessa Brown Children's Clinic
2101 E Yesler Way, Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 987-7210

School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts
(206) 652-4433
674 S Orcas St
Seattle, WA 98108