Fine arts remain a focal point in West Haven Public Schools
Fine arts remain a focal point in West Haven Public Schools
Posted on 05/17/2016
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WEST HAVEN, May 17, 2016 —Gone are the days when arts in school meant learning new songs on a recorder and experimenting with cray-pas, paints and construction paper. In West Haven Public Schools, fine arts is a growing centerpiece of every grade’s curriculum.

The program has undergone something of a renaissance over the past several years, adding new classes, interactive operas, theater groups, presentations and trips, and drumming up more and more participation and enthusiasm from students, parents and staff along the way. In a time when there’s increasing attention paid to core classroom subjects, the West Haven Public School District has made a point of highlighting the importance of arts education and its connection to other academic areas.

“I call it an arts explosion because it’s all grown tremendously. We have so many more students involved now, and the support we’re receiving from the school community has been overwhelming. Our Fine Arts Festival at the Savin Rock Conference Center earlier this month was packed from the minute we opened the doors, and at some of our school plays and concerts, almost every seat is taken,” said Francine Coppola, the district’s fine arts coordinator.

The movement manifested itself in an abundance of arts activity as April transitioned to May. The usual band and chorus concerts kicked off their spring season, but in addition to that, West Haven Public Schools alumnus Mark Hanke performed an opera written specially for West Haven schools in all six elementary buildings April 27-29 through a partnership the district forged with him last year.

opera

The opera incorporated student art projects, corresponded to literature being taught in the elementary school English Language Arts curriculum, and also involved assignments in the school libraries. Students even said the shows changed their minds about opera and that they hope to see more of it in school and in the future.

The following week, West Haven High School band members and students from Forest Elementary School and Washington Elementary School were treated to Bach, Beethoven and Mozart at the Young People's Concert by the New Haven Symphony Orchestra at Yale's Woolsey Hall. This is the second year in a row the school system has brought students to the interactive show, which broke down beats and notes to show youngsters what goes into composing a piece of music.

symphony

The next day, on May 4, the Fine Arts Festival displayed pieces from students in kindergarten through grade 12, while also featuring a sample from the opera, folk dancing from Forest students, Bailey Middle School’s jazz band, a scene from Carrigan Intermediate School’s “Alice in Wonderland Jr.” spring musical, and the WHHS Blue Devil Jazz Band.

arts festival

Then on May 5, the district’s pre-kindergarten Art Show took over the Savin Rock Conference Center with pre-K schools from around the city. Meanwhile across town, Carrigan was holding “A Taste of Drama,” another student show of skits written by three Carrigan teachers.

Carrigan’s Drama Club has become extremely popular, and the intermediate school students are later going on to join Bailey’s Drama Club and West Haven High School’s Theatre Workshop, both of which are going strong and drawing rave reviews.

“This year, Carrigan created ‘A Taste of Drama’ to give kids more experience on the stage. This new show was a great way to support students’ growing interest in theater and give even more kids a chance to get involved,” Superintendent of Schools Neil C. Cavallaro said.

School bands at all levels are seeing similar trends. It’s important to help students identify a passion for art, music or drama when they’re younger so that they understand the myriad options awaiting them at WHHS.

carrigan band

Carrigan’s band saw 100 more students join this year, thanks, in part, to more discussion of band and instrument opportunities in regular music classes.

Speaking of music classes, courses at Carrigan and Bailey now incorporate djembes, a type of African drum, in addition to piano keyboards. Bailey also teaches guitar in class.

Teachers and administrators are proud of the response the expanding arts curriculum has received and that parents and community members are recognizing students’ many talents in the area.

“We really wanted to make a commitment to introducing our youngsters to instruments like the djembe, guitar instruction, opera, the symphony and other art forms they otherwise might not have the chance to experience,” Assistant Superintendent Anne Druzolowski said.

“Our teachers in the fine arts and in our core academic subjects have done an impressive job of working together to make sure students have these opportunities and of creating cross-disciplinary lessons that show how art relates to literature, social studies and even math. The goal is to continue expanding offerings and encouraging even more students to pursue their passions in drama, music and artwork.”