Grandmother checks out a fine arts academy

A visit to Corpus Christi permitted me to visit my grandchildren's school about which I had been hearing good news for three years. This is the Chula Vista Fine Arts Academy, a public school which has reinstated a fine arts program at the grade-school level. The academy is open to all who are interested by application. The enrollment exceeds 400.

First I visited with the principal, Anson R. Nash Jr., who gave me a brief explanation of the school's programs and its goals.

Prior to visiting the fine arts classes, I was shown the library-media center by the instructional specialist. Each teacher has three reading groups and children are placed in the groups according to their instructional level. Each group goes to the library-media center for an hour once a week to receive instruction on skills prescribed by the teacher, to read on controlled reading machines or read-along programs, and to check out library books. The center is open both before and after school so children may check out books then as well.

Next I was to be an observer in a beginning piano class. Each pupil gets one year of group piano instruction. It being just prior to a holiday, the students were excited about the preparations for the holiday, so the teacher used a musical bingo game to quiet them, but at the same time test their awareness of notes and tempo.

After this each student took his position at his electronic piano to work at his assigned piece, each at his own speed depending somewhat on how much practice had been done at home. Some of the students have prevailed on their parents to have a piano in the home for the first time.

A class for stringed instruments was next. Each child has chosen the instrument that interests him and there was a good balance from the smallest violin to the cello. They are required to take them home each weekend or holiday to practice. I learned some of the fine points of bowing a stringed instrument.

Choir and band are also offered, but I did not get to visit either of these classes in the limited time I was there.

A visit in the art room with just the teacher gave me the opportunity to ask what, in her opinion, a student would gain from this activity which included drawing, painting, weaving, pottery throwing, and silk screening. I liked her explanation that in this field a student may find for the first time that he can do it instead of saying, "I can't." This has proven to carry over into the academic attitudes. What an unexpected reward!

The physical education department offers dance -- acrobatic, folk, creative, all stressing flexibility, rhythm, coordination, balance, muscular development. This is in addition to the regular program for those not presently scheduled in the fine-arts physical education class.

I had many questions after these visits: Is the program in its third year of development achieving the goals set for it? What benefits have accrued to the students? What have been the costs compared with a regular curriculum? Where does the time for the extra subjects come from?

Mr. Nash provided me with the answers. The goals are two-fold. The first is to give priority to basics and secondly to allow students an opportunity to gain a broad exposure to and an application of the fine arts.

According to the latest test results compiled at the end of the second year of the program, there was a drop in achievement scores of only 3 percent of the entire student body, 27 percent maintained their level, 70 percent increased in reading skills, language arts, and arithmetic.

To reach the second goal, there are several programs. Students watch experts in their chosen fields in performances given at the school. Resource people, gifted artists, also come to help with the teaching, and the students have the opportunity to perform before their classmates. And finally, there are the performances in the community -- a practical application.

The effectiveness of the total program, I was told, is evidenced mostly by a qualitative improvement in the students' work from year to year, noticed especially in classes where more technical knowledge is required.

The program works for other reasons, I was told from several sources. The staff is highly screened, first by the personnel department, second by the principal, and third by the division of instruction. Teachers, I was told, work extremely hard and there is continuing excitement on their part and this rubs off on the students.

Of course the cost of such a program was a natural question. Since this is a program in its third and final year of development, the costs are stated on the basis of start-up costs which are necessarily high, and from these the continuing costs will lead to the figures for maintaining the program.

Initially the start-up costs over a regular curriculum have been as follows: 1976-77 -- a $15,000 allocation before the school opened for curriculum and staff development plus $6,000 for art equipment and materials; 1977-78 in addition to the regular staff -- full-time personnel $60,000, part-time personnel $30,000, and capital outlay for art and music equipment $25,000. This totaled $136,000 after the first year. In the second year when the fourth-grade band was added there was an additional outlay of $19,000 for band instruments. This kind of expenditure will not go on beyond this year.

From these figures it can be determined that personnel is an ongoing expense and that there will be an ongoing expense for maintenance of musical equipment and an enormous amount of art supplies used in the program.

The long-range benefits to the pupils who have been in the program from the beginning is the appreciation of the best in music and art. Parents have noticed this is the joy of musical accomplishment at home and enjoyment of music wherever heard and a keen observation of art in daily life where none was evident before.

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