2004 Readers Poll
2004 Critics Picks
Best "Faith"-Based Giving Results

The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation had faith in the concept that if you offer the right tools and support, more children from AISD College Readiness Program's target populations (first-generation college students, minority groups, students with special learning needs, students with limited English proficiency, etc.) could truly have faith in their greater likelihood of being able to attend college. The district's first-year results were extraordinary: 25% increase in seniors taking the SAT, 575% increase in parents attending school financial aid workshops, 59% increase in seniors applying to postgraduate schools, and a 55% increase in the amount of scholarships awarded. Now that's what we call Good Faith-Based Giving.

AISD Carruth Administration Center
1111 W. Sixth

Michael & Susan Dell Foundation

Best Balloon Master

We found ourselves at the Filling Station on a Sunday afternoon with a teenager and a preteen, representing two of the most difficult age groups to amuse. Yet here came Gusto the Great across the room, making balloon toys and doing "close-up" magic for the little, er, adolescent nippers. Gus, as he's known away from the red nose, has been at it since age 9, a graduate of Kent Cummins Magic Camp! He performs as Gusto the Great for such organizations as the Austin Public Library and Children's Miracle Network, doing magic, juggling, tricks, and - oh yeah! - those nifty balloon toys. The kids left that day full and happy, while the adults fought with balloon swords.

Gusto the Great

Best Club to Care More About Kids Than Their Alcohol Sales

Being in high school is a bummer and it becomes ever more depressing when there’s no where to go after you leave the house. Luckily Emo’s becomes the bastion for kids with good taste in music. From their free all ages day shows during sxsw to the fantastic line up of bands they have ushered into Austin this year, high school kids without curfews never had it so good.

Best Creative Use of Latex

Even the balloon-phobic will insist on setting their anxiety aside when Smarty Pants walks into the room. This fez-sporting kids entertainer keeps the adults laughing at least as hard as the kiddies as he whips up wacky creations like Ballooncula, the vampiric balloon monster. A punster, too, he refers to his art as Airigami – "capturing air in enclosed latex packages to create a figure – a fancy-schmancy way of saying 'balloon twisting'!"

Best Distraction While Waiting for a Grilled Cheese

Can't take another meal with your kids at some dreary chain restaurant? Sworn off fast food? Try Austin Diner for a change. Besides a great kids menu, they have several boxes of orphaned little Happy Meal-type toys that children find fascinating, as well as games and puzzles to play with. It's a way to get that charge of playing with a new toy without lugging it home and adding to an already-burdensome collection.

Austin Diner
5222 Burnet Rd.

Best Fairy Godmother to Austin's Kid Filmmakers

If your child has aspirations of the cinematic sort, Anne Goetzmann Kelley wants to help – in the most resourceful, creative, and supportive ways. Since taking the helm at the Center for Young Cinema – which merged with the Austin Cinemaker Co-op into Motion Media Arts Center last year – she's probably done more than anyone in town to flesh out and meet the varied needs of movie-making kids, from animation, scriptwriting, directing, shooting, and editing, to what else you wanna learn about?

Motion Media Arts Center
2200 Tillery

Best High School TV Show

Mad props go to the Austin Music Network for closing the generation gap on public/community television. AMN offers a place on the tube for what real teens in Austin are really paying attention to, as welcome relief from the typical teen music programming inundation of VJs and cute boy bands. Plus, this innovative show features its very own high school host. Frankie actually graduated last May, so look for new host Samantha and fellow students from McCallum High in Hi-Fi High School, beginning Oct. 1. Word to the wise for you middle school musicians: Practice up! If you're lucky (and if Austin is smart enough to keep this cool channel) there will already be a place for you to showcase your talent by the time you become a freshman.

Best Junior Western Duds

You want made in the USA? You want made in Austin? You want clothes for your kids that will make everyone else green with envy? Check out Ramonster Wear, a clothing line lovingly designed and painstakingly sewn by Kathie Sever, dud designer extraordinaire and mother of company namesake, the adorable, unstoppable Ramona. With stamps of approval from countless musicians, including the Dixie Chicks (not to mention Kathie's husband, singer-songwriter Matt the Electrician). You'll want some in your size, too.

Kathy Sever at Ramonster Wear

Best Kiddie-Facility Face-Lift

For those Austinites under 3 feet tall, or anyone who's not yet mastered the doggie paddle, Austin's public wading pools are a great way to escape the heat. Most of our town's pools were built in the Thirties or Forties and are in desperate need of some cosmetic and structural surgery. The city's plans are to convert the now stagnant pools (the reason for those scheduled shock-and-awe chlorine breaks) into circulating ones, or to replace them entirely with "water playgrounds" equipped with sprinklers and fountains – sans the standing water. Next thing you know, Austin's toddlers will organize their own synchronized swim team!

Austin PARD
200 S. Lamar

Best New Prank

First, let us unequivocally state that we here at The Austin Chronicle do not condone the perpetration of acts illegal or of questionable legality. That said, the fine art of "bageling" requires obtaining, sometimes through partially legal means, a large quantity of bagels or other bread product and "decorating" someone's yard with them. The noble bagel lends itself to the easy spelling of words, drawing of pictures, or making of avant-garde abstract art. While the act itself bears an uncanny resemblance to the excitement and intentional silliness of "TPing" or "toilet papering," it may not, we repeat may not be performed with a malicious heart. Your intended object (victim?) will not have to break his or her back cleaning it up. That's what birds are for! Not to mention, instead of wasting "stuff," bageling involves a kind of creative recycling. Plus, finding free bagels can be a hilarious, bonding experience, especially when you get sent on wild goose chases by grocery store managers named Carlos. We advise against the following, but would be remiss in not mentioning that Dumpster diving can be the way to hit the jackpot, but select your scavenging locations carefully – you don't want to dig through a lot of icky, smelly trash to earn your dough. Available wherever bagels are found.

Best Nonprofit Fitness and Health Program for Kids

Founder and executive director of Youth InterACTIVE, Baker Harrell knows what your kids want. And he provides it, through a series of programs for youth that keeps their minds, bodies, and spirits active. Believing that health and fitness are key to the development of creative, adventurous, self-confident, and inspired individuals, YI offers the Fit Like Me! Elementary Program, the Name-the-Game Challenge Middle School Program, and the Get ACTIVE! Clubs Program, a community outreach effort. Earning his Ph.D at UT in the fields of Children's Health, Interactive Technology, and Youth Culture, Harrell and his instructors know that a happy kid is a healthy kid.

Youth InterACTIVE
PO Box 28983

Best Place for Kids to Go to Shows

Since adults rarely think about such a thing, the best places for kids to go to shows are those places they create for themselves. A show on the pedestrian bridge that brings the cops is not so much a statement on the hooliganism of today's youth, but proof that today's youth are resourceful at finding their own place to express themselves. We have also enjoyed going to all ages shows at Sound on Sound, Monkey Wrench books, and the Arthouse, to name a few.

Best Place to Be Yourself

The first thing older folks say upon first entering the Out Youth drop-in center is, "I wish I had something like this when I was a teenager!" Gay or straight, the issue remains: Austin is severely deficient in viable and safe hang-out options for older kids. So you can imagine that for young people who identify as GLBTQ or their allies, that field narrows almost as much as the minds that keep them marginalized. Luckily, our town is blessed with Out Youth. OY counselors are on hand three afternoons a week, to help kids deal with day-to-day issues ... or to simply play a game of Pictionary, order some pizza, plan a day at the park, or hang out and lend an ear. The drop-in center at Out Youth is a safe haven of self-expression, allowing the fierce flow of freedom in its finest, truest, most intended form: Freeeeeeee.

Out Youth House
909 E. 49th

Best Place to Be Yourself in School

The moment you enter the one corridor that makes up Austin's Griffin School, you sense something different. OK, "different" is obvious: Hair colors abound; the fashion sense would fit any Bowie, Sonic Youth, OutKast, or Yeah Yeah Yeah's video and music that you probably won't hear on your local commercial radio station blares as the between-class bell. But the Griffin School's uniqueness is about so much more than all that. The modest little school that sits atop the hill of the Sri Atmananda complex is a student-led community. Outside, students have constructed a garden; pink picnic tables dot the sloping lawn and add to the laid-back atmosphere. Inside, walls are covered with the students' own art, creating an environment conducive to expanding horizons. Students here take responsibility for the character of their culture, an inclusive community for anyone of any background. There is no dress code (though students are encouraged to use good taste) and communication is key. To illustrate the school's unique flavor, Griffin students participate in reoccurring dress-up days like Pirate Day and Glam or Goth Day so everyone can have fun and express themselves in the safe, nurturing environment and try to outdo their own everyday wear.

Griffin School
5001 Evans

Best Place to Keep Your Kids From Seeing the Light of Day

This Eastside entertainment giant has everything anyone could ever possibly want – whether you just got out of diapers or into them. Face it; where else can you roller-skate backward for hours and hours, bowl a couple of strings, grab lunch (you got your pizza, your hot dogs, your soda pop), check out a recently released movie (for $2!!), and smack some unlucky puck around the air hockey table for a spell? Nowhere, man!

Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex
1156 Hargrave

Best Place to Show your kids an industrial view

Right next to the swings that harness our little one's energies lies a whole expanse of metal pipes and doodads that create the energy that power our very houses. When little precious leaves the light on, you can point to the rusted metal facings rising on the banks of the river and tell her that next time, you'll take her there instead of to the flower shower squirty things so near and dear to her heart.

Metz Park
2407 Canterbury

Best Public School Model

Located in the heart of Austin's Eastside on Chicon Avenue, this "inner-city" school has been reformed as a self-paced opportunity for high school juniors and seniors seeking a fresh start and a new environment. Although classes may entail only a half day, some students feel that with the focus on smaller class size, independent learning, and fewer typical high school distractions (cheerleaders, competitive social scene, bullies ...) they have more time to accomplish their work than at a traditional public high school. All teachers and staff are enthusiastic role models, there to help each student attain his or her goals. Garza caters to students with extraordinary circumstances and is well-tailored to the needs of each pupil, especially new mothers, working students, older returning students, etc. The award-winning community of Austin's Garza High is an excellent place for the independent go-getter.

Gonzalo Garza Independence High School
1600 Chicon

Best Red Carpet Fanfare

Not to dismiss our darling celebrities – sure, they deserve a little star treatment every now and again – but when we heard that these kid-powered, youth-empowering film programs were hosting their own red-carpet debuts, we thought that the glitz and glamour were definitely called for. Perhaps the level of cinematic expertise wouldn't fly in L.A. or New York, but the films these kids are producing still deserve enthusiasm and recognition. Not to mention, it's a great way to develop the Austin film scene. Kids acquire technological literacy, learn the value of teamwork, and begin to trust in their own creativity – crucial skills at an age when those qualities are most vulnerable. Now that's worth rolling out the red carpet.

Girlstart STEM Center
1400 W. Anderson

Camacho Activity Center
34 Robert T. Martinez Jr.

Best Summer Place for Learning Reading, Writing, and 'Rithmetic

For an educated city like Austin, it is surprising that there aren't more academically oriented summer day camps. If your child needs to brush up on some of those math and reading skills, look no further than KAMICO Academy. A private school during the regular school year, KAMICO opens its doors during the summer to children ages 6 to 10. The nurturing environment of their math and language arts classes makes learning fun, or at least a lot less stressful. Plus, the teacher-child ratio is fantastic.

KAMICO Academy
4413 Spicewood Springs Rd.

Best Way to Jazz Kids up

Ever since School of Rock opened parents' eyes to their kids' musical possibilities, places like the Austin School of Music have been besieged with calls. ASM's programs offer not only year-round classes and a rock summer camp but specialize in a jazz camp. Directors David Sebree and Tamara Beland (who has recently departed from the school to launch her own arts and music nonprofit) pour their years of experience as musicians into overseeing the youthful performers and ensure a bright future for Austin's respected and longtime jazz heritage.

Austin School of Music
2428-B W. Ben White

Best Way to Rock This Town

How cool is this? You're 10 years old, a veteran of summer music camps, can play enough 13th Floor Elevators songs for a mini-set, and Roky Erickson shows up for your gig! Natural Ear Music Camp founder Michele Murphy and camp director Alvin Crow were thrilled with his appearance, but the spotlight was on the kids. Since the early Nineties, Murphy has been developing the successful summer programs that teach kids not just how to play but the dynamics of performing in a group. Where else but Austin would hedge its bets for the future by creating its next generation?

Natural Ear Music School
103 Krebs Ln.

Best Web Site for Kids' Clothing

There are some of us who haven’t seen a real-life child in years but who still regularly visit this Austin-based kids clothing Web site just to see what strange new additions have been made to its fantastical landscapes. The site takes you all over the world so that you can envision your little angels wearing their new raincoats in, say, Austria, and if you click on the frolicsome creatures in the background, you’ll be rewarded with delightful, non sequitur-filled thought bubbles. One of the most imaginative Web sites around, is a true shopping experience.

Most Well-Rounded Summer Day Camp

Champions is already a fave among families who think having fun is a lot more important than developing that killer competitive spirit. Their summer program in gymnastics is tops among the many options we have in Austin. Besides tumbling, kids do simple crafts, make their own snacks, and sing "camp" songs and "team" yells. It's a complete toss-up between which theme day is the favorite — pajama day or beach day. Even if you're the type who gets suspicious when other people seem to be having a little too much fun (supercheerfulness and enthusiasm abound here), you'll soon be a convert to the Champions way.

Champions Academy
3525 Bee Caves Rd., 512/305-6111
Champions Academy Northwest Hills, 7300 Hart Ln., 512/826-8015
Champions Academy Tarrytown, 1314 Exposition, 512/473-2227

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