12 Inspiring High Schools Keeping the Arts Alive

While study after study has demonstrated the benefits of an education that includes instruction in the arts, many schools faced with tough budgetary decisions are cutting back on or eliminating such programs from their curriculum. Today, many primary and secondary school students aren’t growing up with access to arts, music, drama, and dance — the full effects of which we may not fully understand for decades.

Luckily, some schools are holding tight to their arts programs, giving students access to a wide range of educational experiences that could improve their grades or even get them scholarships to college. Here, we’ve highlighted just a few of the high schools across America showcasing just what the arts have to offer their students.

  1. Novato High School

    Novato High School was so dedicated to providing arts education to its students that it created a magnet school within the school called Marin School of the Arts for students who want to focus on music, dance, filmmaking, painting, and other arts. There are few arts schools outside of major urban areas, but this Novato, California school is the exception. And they must be doing something right. This year, the school was named a “Grammy Signature School” for its music education program, and 45 of its students raked in over $1.7 million in scholarships to prestigious art schools around the nation. The focus isn’t just on arts, however, and many students find motivation in their creative endeavors to keep their grades up. 21% of NHS’s students in the arts program have a GPA of 4.0, showing that arts education really can be a boon to learning all other subjects.

  2. Providence High School

    When the drama department ran out of funds at this Burbank high school, it seemed like students would simply have to miss out, but with the help of the community and some quick thinking, that didn’t happen. While many California schools are cutting back on the arts due to the serious financial woes facing the state, this school has found an innovative way to keep programs open without shelling out big bucks. Their solution? Finding actors and stage directors who are willing to do much of the work as volunteers. Jeremy Kent Jackson and Dominic Catrambone not only help out with PHS’s drama department, they’re also professional actors and co-run a youth theater education program. They say they get as much out of the program as they put in, making it a win-win for students and teachers alike.

  3. Williamsville Central High School

    This high school offers students an amazing program that helps them engage in all types of art, from painting, to poetry, to dance. The school’s Collaborations and Connections: Celebrations of Poetry, Music, Dance, and Art program garnered them the College Board’s Award for Excellence and Innovation in the Arts. In place since 2000, students in the program get a chance to get creative, choreographing dance moves, writing original work, and even creating some amazing illustrations. It also brings in students from surrounding high schools, and encourages students interested in different art forms to collaborate. Each year, a guest artist is chosen to be the inspiration for the work students in the program complete, and past artists have included some big names in poetry like Nikki Giovanni, Ted Kooser, and Billy Collins.

  4. Suncoast High School

    Kimberly Dougherty came to Suncoast High School with a lot of ambition. Working 100 or more hours a week, she’s helped make the school’s drama department on par with those at professional art schools, even bringing in well-known actors and Broadway stars to train and mentor students. What makes her story striking, however, is that Dougherty is struggling with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, and has been for the past three years. Despite being weakened by the chemotherapy treatments, she’s stayed strong for students and hasn’t wavered in her commitment to her work. Students under her watch still put on several plays a year, and she credits her students with giving her the push she needs to get through the really difficult days of her treatment.

  5. Unionville High School

    Chances are pretty good that your high school never put on an art gala, but that’s just what this Pennsylvania one does each year. The production relies heavily on donations from local businesses and artists, as well as the hard work of students themselves. Designed both to help raise money for the school’s art programs and give artistic students a taste of what art is like as a career, the gala allows students to exhibit their artworks right alongside that of professional artists. This year’s gala featured art by over 90 artists and 85 UHS students, 40 works of which were sold in a silent auction. Administrators believe it’s a great way to get both students and the community excited about arts education.

  6. Williamson High School

    Many schools in America aren’t worried about their reputation as purveyors of art education these days, but Williamson High School isn’t one of those schools. A new plan for the upcoming school year is designed to help make the school be a standout in arts education in the region. A committee of 15 arts educators worked together to develop a strategic plan to help the school attain national prominence in arts education, getting students involved and even creating a new administrative position to ensure all schools in their district have the resources they need for art, music, drama, and other arts courses. In a time when many schools are cutting back on the arts, WHS is moving in the other direction, and showing that the arts deserve just as much attention as athletics.

  7. Pentucket High School

    New director of the Pentucket Regional School District’s Fine and Performing Arts Department Michael Smith wants to make sure that students in the district’s schools, including Pentucket High School, aren’t just learning about the arts. He wants them to understand by art matters in a much larger sense. The school is working hard to create and fund arts classes for just about every field of interest from theater to film, as well as a wealth of after-school opportunities, but Smith thinks its key for students to also get a chance to see art in action in the real world. Pentucket has an award-winning arts program already, but plans are in the works to expand it further, something many students at less arts-focused schools may find a bit jealousy inducing.

  8. Kiona-Benton City High School

    Poetry recital may not be a common form of entertainment these days, but students at this Washington high school aren’t letting that stand in their way. Taking part in a national competition called Poetry Out Loud, the students memorize a poem and recite it out loud for the judges. Many students had little exposure to poetry before the program, but are now reading works by some of the most famous writers in history – and some are creating their own works, to boot. Teachers feel that the program is a great way to get students engaged and thinking about the literature they encounter, getting in touch with the emotions and history it can conjure up as well.

  9. Pompano Beach High School

    Pompano’s art program has earned some bragging rights after teacher Julia Perlowski won “Arts Educator of the Year” by the Cultural Foundation of Broward. Perlowski is a drama and English teacher at the school who has made great strides in improving the school’s programs in both areas. She created a Shakespeare Program, helps teens through a reading program, and even helps students learn how to become arts advocates in their local community. Additionally, when she arrived at the school, there was no drama department. After seven years, she’s built it into a thriving community, with over 400 students wanting to enroll in her courses every year.

  10. Nipmuc Regional High School

    This high school’s arts program won it an award from the College Board in 2011, and for good reason. It came up with a way to still offer a wide range of arts courses (25 in all) without having to up the budget. By using an open studio format, which students can request time in throughout the day, the school only needs three instructors in total to keep things running smoothly. Additionally, it helps promote the arts in the community through a Fine Arts Festival. Students at the high school and the surrounding community can enter art to the show, and prizes are offered to those judged to have the best works.

  11. Harker Heights High School

    HHHS boasts an award-winning arts program, and a lot of the credit goes towards its focus on practical arts training. The school offers an AP course in 2-D Design that was created to help students bridge the gap between fine arts and vocational training in the arts. Students who enroll in the course and the other training courses offered through the school’s Career and Training Center can start working towards building skills that will help them prepare for a career in commercial art. So far, the program has proved to be immensely successful, and students pass the AP exam with a 97% success rate.

  12. Heritage High School

    Arts programs are often the first to be cut because administrators don’t see them as essential. Heritage High School is trying to change that by creating a program called Immune System, focused on demonstrating that arts education is an integral part of any interdisciplinary curriculum. Students are pushed to become actively engaged in the arts both in school and with artists and college students in the community. Collaborative projects have proved quite successful and this year the program won the school a nationwide award for excellence and innovation in the arts. One of the coolest aspects of the program is its focus on community service. Students have created works and sold them to raise hundreds of dollars for charity and are required as part of their senior projects to do work that benefits or draws attention to nonprofits and social issues.

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