Shining a spotlight on the talents of high school students in
the Chicagoland area has become of vital importance not only to
educators, but to the overall community. Whether it's a pep rally
for the school football team or packing a school theatre on a
Thursday night to watch a new production, the overwhelming support
various high school arts education programs receive is a testament
not only to their success, but to the long term benefits that go
beyond the school walls.
"We want our students to choose something they love and we will
do everything in our power to make them shine," explains Rachel
Troy, music instructor at Roycemore
School for the past seven years.
Studies show countless physical and emotional benefits from a
life filled with the arts. Some research has gone so far as to show
that participation in arts education can even help raise students
test scores and help them relax both in and out of school.
"The visual arts allow students to express themselves like
nothing else," says Tom Jesse, Rosary
High School Fine Arts Chair and Music Director. "Everyone needs
to remember that the spotlight doesn't necessarily have to be on
them for them to shine. These adolescents are going through a time
where they might not be as verbal. Yet, the arts allow them to
express all of their ideas and thoughts."
The opportunity to express thoughts and feeling through a
picture or a song is crucial, especially during the often
tumultuous high school years, as teens work to find themselves and
learn more about the people around them.
"Getting involved in any sort of arts program can help kids this
age with not only their communication skills, but also, and maybe
even more importantly, their listening skills," explains Jeff
Gandy, the Teen and Youth Program Coordinator at the Second
City Training Center, which offers a wide variety of classes in
arts performance. "Believe it or not, a majority of performers are
actually very shy people. Being on stage can not only help them
feel more confident and help them think better on their feet, but
also help them feel more comfortable with who they are."
"It has been widely documented that activities such as regular
singing play an important part in students physical development,
well being and also builds a tremendous sense of community within a
school," adds Brenda Kerr, Admissions Director at
The British School of Chicago. "Within music they learn how to
appreciate and evaluate their own and others work in a subjective
manor. They have invaluable experience and responsibility being
part of a team in bands and small ensembles and learn lifelong
skills about team work."
In fact, the concept of teamwork is a crucial component to any
successful arts education program.
"We stress the fact that the group is always greater than the
individual," says Gandy, who has served as the teen and youth
program coordinator at Second City for the past five years. "These
students quickly find out that they won't be successful without the
others up on that stage working with them."
Many high schools in the Chicagoland area offer a wide array of
arts education classes in visual arts, drama, dance and music
throughout the school day as part of their daily academic
"Our students are encouraged to take the course that suits them
best and will be helped to make the correct decision based upon
their musical ability and strengths," remarks Kerr. "These courses
all offer excellent programs in performance, composition and
analytical music skills and can go on to build up a university
Parental support is key to a student's success in the
performance arts. Besides actually attending performances and
encouraging the teen in their art endeavors, some parents have been
known to get involved in the program by doing everything from
providing snacks during long rehearsals to making costumes for the
"I especially love when I see parents bring flowers to give to
their children after the production," says Roycemore's Troy, whose
theatre students recently put on a production of the well known
musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." "The kids
faces just light up. This kind of support is priceless."
Not only are students involved in the arts encouraged to share
their talents with their fellow classmates, but more and more
schools have found ways in which their students' work can be shared
with people in the community.
"We have always stressed the service component and our goal to
share the arts with the broader community," says Viki Siliunas,
co-chair of the Fine Arts Department of Trinity
High School in River Forest. "Some of our students have had the
chance to paint murals at schools in underprivileged areas. Our
arts students also regularly work with the veterans at Edward Hines
Jr. Veterans Hospital. Our senior painting students visit with the
patients and actually do portraits of the vets. The students then
place the drawings in a frame and give the piece to the patients as
"Our music students constantly perform in liturgy, do services
at women's shelters, and concerts around the city," adds Anna
Reynes, Art Without Borders Coordinator at Queen
of Peace High School in south suburban Burbank. "Our drama
group recently went to a nearby daycare and played theatre games
with the kids."
Queen of Peace's Arts Without Borders program also offer the
chance for countless students to check out all that Chicago has to
offer in terms of the arts. Students traveled to The Art Institute
of Chicago, the Auditorium Theatre for their rehearsal of "Too Hot
to Handel" and to Comedy Sportz for a recent show.
Students with an artistic passion can choose to continue their
arts education studies not only during the after-school hours, but
also on the weekends.
"Our Saturday Music School offers students the chance to take
private lessons with a professional musician from Chicago,"
explains British School's Kerr. "This is a wonderful opportunity
for students to not only become very proficient on their
instrument, but also give them yet another chance to gain a great
sense of achievement and pride."
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