Division Looks To Transplant HHS’ Arts Success At Stone Spring

City Schools To Fashion Pilot Program Based On First-Year Academy

Posted: April 19, 2014

Harrisonburg High School students in Daniel Upton’s Mac Music class use keyboards and computers to create compositions Thursday. Harrisonburg City Public Schools recently won an award from a national foundation for its commitment to music. (Photos by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
Harrisonburg High School teacher Daniel Upton helps a student with his musical composition during Mac Music class, an infusion of music and technology, at the high school on Thursday.

HARRISONBURG — As the first year for the Fine Arts Academy at Harrisonburg High School comes to a close, the school division is planning for a new arts infusion pilot program at Stone Spring Elementary School.

The program would blend arts education into all areas students study, making for more creative and critically thinking students, administrators say.

“We realize many of those students in the Fine Arts Academy may not major in art,” said J.R. Snow, fine arts coordinator for Harrisonburg City Public Schools. “But art is used everywhere. …  Steve Jobs, his ability to pretty much transform the world of technology, that’s about design. Architecture is about design. There’s science that uses the creativity and impulsivity of artists.”

The Fine Arts Academy at Harrisonburg High School has about 20 students now and is expected to double next year. Students who have been accepted into the program still take normal math and science classes like everyone else, but use their electives in a more structured way.

They may have 11 music, visual art, drama and other art classes through the course of their four years at HHS.

Previously, the most dedicated art students may have taken just six classes, Snow said.

The transformation at Stone Spring will be more subtle.

Kids will still learn math and everything else one might expect to learn in elementary school. But those lessons are being rethought to make students think more creatively.

When students learn about shapes in math class, for example, they might examine the differences between a triangle and a square, and bring that back to a music class to discuss the differences between meters with varying numbers of beats.

Stone Spring Principal Lynn Sprouse said teachers might also be encouraged to use songs to help students remember difficult concepts.

“Kids learn in different ways,” he said. “When you think about how students learn, a lot of kids learn through music, or they learn through dance or movement, or they learn through drama or acting things out or drawing things. …   I think it’s really going to be a program that will be beneficial for all of our students.”

Recently, HCPS was recognized for the first time as one of the Best Communities for Music Education by the NAMM Foundation, which supports advancing active participation in music in the nation’s schools. Of the 2,000 school divisions that applied for the honor, fewer than 400 across the country were recognized.

HCPS is one of fewer than a dozen Virginia divisions to receive the award.

“When a national organization [that] reviews and looks at the bigger picture of music education in the nation can recognize what Harrisonburg is doing, and put us on a list with other great institutions around the country, that gives great validity to the work the teachers are doing,” Snow said.

He added that it may help the division secure grants and funding later down the line.

Snow said the division has advanced its arts education significantly in the nine years he’s worked for HCPS.

At HHS, for example, the number of music classes and teachers has increased because of greater interest. The school also added Advanced Placement Music Theory.

Research has shown that greater involvement in the arts is academically beneficial for students in many ways, Snow said, adding it would be a disservice to the community not to continue to advance such programs.

Sprouse said he’s hopeful that will be the case at Stone Spring. Plans to help teachers with that mindset change to bring the arts into the classroom more regularly will continue throughout the summer.

“The primary thing is just the impact on overall learning, and we’re hoping and we’re expecting to see kids that are more engaged with what’s happening in the classroom,” he said. “Any time we can get kids more interested, more involved in what’s happening, you’ll be able to see a positive impact on learning.”

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or kcloos@dnronline.com

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