‘A Community Of Artists’

Fine Arts Academy Kicks Off At Harrisonburg High

Posted: August 23, 2013

Harrisonburg High School students take a dance class from teacher Amber Corriston on the first day of school Tuesday. The school has created a new fine arts academy. The program started with 20 students, adding a group of freshmen each year. (Photos by Nikki Fox / DN-R)
Harrisonburg High School students dance in Amber Corriston’s class on Tuesday. Fashioned after its STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — academies, Harrisonburg City Schools has created a new one this year for fine arts.
HARRISONBURG — Harrisonburg High School is calling all its scribblers, thespians, poets, painters, percussionists, singers and dancers.
Whether seasoned artistes or casual art admirers, J.R. Snow, fine arts coordinator for Harrisonburg City Public Schools, said all have been welcomed into the HHS’ newly launched fine arts academy, an academic outlet for the “right-brained” that brings students together to study a wide array of arts and art concepts.

Following more than a year of planning, the new “community of artists” officially came into existence Tuesday with the start of the school year.

“After 14 months, we are very excited to start up and to see kids and to bring them to something they are obviously anticipating,” Snow said. “We’re ready to roll.”

The academy is similar to the division’s existing STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — academies, which began at Skyline and Thomas Harrison middle schools and Harrisonburg High School this year.

Students in the fine arts academy choose a strand: creative writing, drama, visual art, dance and either instrumental or choral music. Then, in addition to taking classes required for their strand, they take a special class, where all students in the academy come together to study concepts and how they relate to various art forms.

The class is the only one exclusively for the academy students. For band, dance or music classes, academy students are still mixed in with the general HHS students.

“We didn’t want to make [the academy] exclusive,” said Snow. “Our whole goal is to reach out.”

The creation of the program also will allow teachers to provide special instruction to English language learners.
One of Snow’s main hopes is that students become creative thinkers.

“We don’t expect them all to become practicing artists,” he said. “Our hope is that they really get to understand all these arts [and] that at the end of the day they are passionate, creative thinkers in whatever they choose to do.”

Planning began in spring 2012 for the academy and a tentative proposal for its structure was presented to the Harrisonburg School Board in October. Seventeen of the 20 students enrolled are freshmen and three are sophomores.

A new group of freshmen will be admitted to the academy each year.

“That little extra bit of arts couldn’t hurt,” said sophomore Valerio Alemán, 15, who said the curriculum is helping him get a jump-start on his college studies. “I definitely want to go to college for music.”

Added fellow sophomore Jaymie Inouye, 15: “Any class I can take to strengthen the skills I already have [is helpful].”

Startup costs, including personnel and supplies, for the academy are approximately $124,000, according to Superintendent Scott Kizner.

“This is pretty rare,” said Amber Corriston, the division’s new dance teacher. Corriston, who moved to Harrisonburg from Seattle this year with her husband, Ryan, said she’s impressed that the high school is opening up new arts opportunities for students.

“That they have something where people can get started in high school is pretty amazing,” said Corriston, who has been teaching dance for 20 years.

The James Madison University College of Visual and Performing Arts and the Arts Council of the Valley will partner with HHS to provide educational opportunities for students.

Snow said planners are now in the “dream, design, create stage” of how fine arts curriculum will look at the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade level. But he knows what the focus of the programs will be.

“Our focus and mission is on creating lifelong passionate learners of the arts and appreciators of the arts,” he said.

Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or sharrer@dnronline.com

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