The week before winter break began, I attended both the middle and high schools’ festive holiday programs.  For the middle-school one, I sat in the audience like any other proud parent; for the high-school one, I stood backstage and shushed whisperers, helped kids with their costumes, and kept out of the way of moving stage pieces.  I think that’s my second chaperoning shift this year (well, fourth, really, but the second one that “counts” toward the year’s chaperoning duties; the other two were community-service projects, and the students involved asked me).

The arts programs at SA are one of the factors that draw some families to us.  They are quite strong, both in performing and fine arts.  I have no idea of the budgets for the arts departments, but they must be pretty significant, looking at the facilities and materials involved.  The new building has four airy studios for art, ceramics, sculpture and photography, and those rooms are busy whenever I drop into the art or sculpture room during my free periods.  Usually, the students are working, and music might be playing, and the teacher is happy to show me what’s going on.

Whether it’s chaperoning backstage, sitting in the audience or dropping into a sculpture class, the arts also give me a chance to make a different kind of connection with a student.  I get to acknowledge them for something outside of class and admire what they do–which I really do, I don’t fake my delight in their work.

Every student has to take arts electives, but almost all of them go beyond the minimum requirement, because the classes are so rewarding.  I think the requirement is getting to the intermediate level, but it seems as though all the seniors I had in the fall were doing some kind of art class–film, sculpture, theater, ceramics, and dance seem to be the most common ones in my group of 17 (though I also have two band kids).  It’s funny how different ones seem to dominate different years.  For example, the class that graduated last year was very strong in photography, ceramics, and theater.  This year’s crop has fewer serious theater kids, but there are so many students in the fourth-level film class that for the first time they are producing two senior films instead of one.

I love that the school takes the arts so seriously.  I love that even the kids who are pretty seriously into something else, like football or math, have at least one art form that they pursue as well.  I love that the kids we graduate have had the experience of working alone and together in some kind of artistic pursuit, taking those kinds of risks, and watching other people take them as well.  I wish all schools could provide this for their students.


4 responses to this post.

  1. All of our students at FGS have to take one performing art and one visual art elective to graduate, and we’ve got strong programs in those areas (although nothing like the airy studios you speak of!). But one of the struggles we’ve been having lately is that the arts are getting squeezed out by college pressures. There are only so many courses that a student can fit into a year’s schedule (and all of our courses are year-long), and in recent years our college counseling office has been urging students to take that extra science or math course instead of visual or performing arts. And for our high-achieving students, college counseling is telling them not to take the cool social studies electives but instead to take another AP course. The faculty is pretty distressed about this, but I also feel for the college counseling office, which is under enormous pressure to get students into high-ranked schools. (Our college list is very good, but it’s not as good — as these things are measured — as some of the super-high-powered independent schools in the Adventure City area.) I and most of my colleagues are convinced that students’ pursuing passions for the arts will actually do them far more good than taking yet another AP course, especially in a subject they don’t find especially interesting, but many parents argue that they are investing good money in an FGS education and that the pay-off is acceptance to a college that they think will open doors for their daughters for the rest of their life. It’s a difficult quandary.


  2. WN?, how many periods does FGS have? I ask because our lunatic rotating schedule, which I actually like in many ways, gives us eight periods, and a typical student load is five academic classes plus an art or another requirement (such as a PE class, or the computer science requirement, or whatever). I wasn’t here when the LNR got adopted, but I wonder if one of the reasons for it was keeping a space open for almost any student to fit in an arts class.

    In practice, most students fill up their schedules, and the counselors have to persuade them that they need a free period or two. And as you might recognize, having eight periods means less time overall for any given class than when we had six or seven–whatever it was back then. The older teachers, especially the history ones, and especially Akela, often remark on having to teach the same amount of the subject in less time…


    • P.S. I just checked, and our requirement is “two sequential semesters” of one art. It’s possible to do some things, like be in a play, without being in a concurrent class. And there are a couple of musical classes that meet at what the public schools around here call “zero period”–before first period.


  3. Our school went in the opposite direction a few years ago, right when I was starting at the school; our old schedule had had 8 or 9 periods, and under the new schedule there are only seven, with the goal of having longer class periods. Our students also usually take five major courses and a half-course in art or performance or journalism or something along those lines. So they can definitely all fulfill their requirements for one visual and one performing art. What gets tricky is that the higher-level visual art courses become full rather than half-courses, and while students can get permission to take six major courses, they start to feel over-scheduled, especially since they are also all taking P.E. or playing a sport. And clubs and other commitments are on top of that and often meeting during the day. (Our literary magazine meets during a lunch period, for example.) Some of them do seem to have remarkably little unscheduled time. Now, I was in the same position back when I was a HS student, especially since I had a part-time job on top of six courses and editorship of the school newspaper … but I don’t recall feeling anything like the pressure that they seem to be under. I knew I would get into a good college, and I just didn’t worry about it particularly, and it never felt like we had a huge amount of homework, although we obviously did have work to do. And I was hardly a Zen kid in HS (or now, for that matter!), so I don’t think it was that I could just handle stress better; I think there was actually less stress.

    I’ve digressed here, but I do think this sense of being squeezed and over-scheduled and over-stressed about college is one reason that not as many students are engaged in the arts as we’d like, although we do still have a robust program.


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