High school arts education

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 curriculum.

“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 application profile.”

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 school play.

“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 gifts.”

“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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