SF to be honored for commitment to arts education

Published Oct 29, 2013 at 4:34 pm (Updated Oct 29, 2013 at 4:34 pm)

The South Fayette Township School District’s board of directors is being honored for its commitment to keeping arts education in school.

The board will be presented with the 2013 Arts Education School Board Leadership Award for its commitment to sustaining and expanding arts education in South Fayette, during tough financial times.

The Oct. 30 symposium will be held in Harrisburg and is sponsored by the Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC) and the Pennsylvania Arts Education Network.

According to the EPLC, the board is being recognized for committing financial resources toward a self-assessment of its art, music, theater and dance programs and to develop a comprehensive kindergarten through 12th grade music and visual arts curriculums. The board also voted to build a district-wide student orchestra and to expand its theater program to include a ‘Young Playwrights’ component.

In addition, the board and district administration are being honored for working together to provide professional development opportunities for arts educators and administrators. The board has worked to develop partnerships with community arts organizations, to support several artists in residence, and to host two regional Arts Education Days.

According to the EPLC, “The South Fayette Township School Board’s initiative to offer arts opportunities offers a host of ideas for school districts across Pennsylvania.”

Board member Bill Newcomer will be attending the symposium along with Superintendent Dr. Bille Rondinelli.

“I am excited and honored that we are being recognized. This is an endorsement to the district’s commitment to excellence,” Newcomer said. “The board has continued to contribute to the various arts-related groups such as the musicals. Also, the design of the new intermediate school included a wing dedicated to the arts.”

“The board takes to heart our mission statement and believes that academics, arts and athletics are equally important in preparing our students for their future,” Newcomer added.

Students in South Fayette are seeing the benefit of the board’s work to keep arts in the classroom. So, too, are the teachers.

Art is an elective at the high school, but classes taught by Patrick McAndrew fill up quickly. A teacher for 21 years, he instructs ninth through 12th grade students.

“I enjoy the kids,” said McAndrew. “We have fun in here.” McAndrew acknowledged the support from the school board and administration.

“We are blessed,” he said. “We have a whole fine arts wing.”

McAndrew said the arts help the students become creative problem-solvers. “We all have to communicate. The skills you learn are transferable,” he said.

Amanda Henry, a junior at South Fayette is taking Art II as an elective this semester.

“It’s my place to get away from everything,” Henry said. Art class provides a way for her to “vent” and de-stress from the rest of the school day. “I love art,” she said.

“It’s a relief during the day,” agreed senior Taylor Austin. “All of my electives are in this wing.”

Austin, who is also a member of the chorus, said that high school principal, Scott Milburn, came to Nashville to see one of her performances.

“They do honestly care about us,” Austin said about her teachers and principal.

Junior Billy Hunter, who is enrolled in Art III, said, “Coming in (to art class) you know it’s going to be fun.”

It’s not just the fine-arts that is South Fayette’s focus. The high school’s band is also a prominent part of the district.

Eryn Carranza has worked at South Fayette for seven years. For the past three years, she has been director of the district’s Little Green Machine Marching Band. She also teaches band to fourth and fifth graders at South Fayette.

“I knew in fourth or fifth grade that I wanted to be a teacher,” said Carranza, who in her free time plays tuba in the West Hills Symphonic Band.

“It’s more than just a program,” she said of music at South Fayette. “It’s a piece of you. It’s our culture. What child hasn’t danced or sang or made up a story?”

Carranza hopes her passion tranfers to her students.

“I want them to understand that music is something they can take with them forever,” she said. “I want them to enjoy music and be 95 and playing their trumpet.”

Carranza wants her students to know that she cares about them as a person, and not just a musician. “The arts are a critical part of who we are,” she said.

Emily Chabalie, a junior, plays French horn in the band. She practices every day. “It helps to de-stress me,” she said, “We’re one big family.”

Junior Nick Karafilis said music helps him in many ways. He plays trumpet in marching band and the oboe in concert band. “Music is math. Music is language. It’s a universal language,” he said. “If I’m studying for something I’ll be listening to music,” he said.

Sophomore Sam Miller, who is in band and show choir said, “Going to show choir gets me through half the day.” He added that the thought of going to band gets him through the other half.

Chabalie said the teachers and principal are very supportive. She pointed out that the principal comes on the band trips and teachers attend the musical performances, too.

“We are in tough times. Despite the increasing needs of the district, my financial support has remained the same,” Carranza said. She said she is able to get all of the sheet music and instrument repairs that are needed.

Chablie said if there were not arts in the school, “There would be a mass riot.”

“It’s not about playing music. It’s about being around people you get along with and people you love,” Miller said.

Karafilis agreed. “There would be big problems.” He added that he’s taking four advanced placement classes. He needs that break period during the day that the arts provides. “I can’t imagine my life without any of this,” he said.

In the middle school, Diane Lally’s art room is covered in Beatles paraphernalia – the theme for this 12-week period. Lally has taught art at South Fayette for 12 years.

Eighth-grader Taylor Vasalani said she enjoys taking art because “It allows you to express yourself.”

Her twin sister, Sammy, agreed. “There’s no set answer. You can’t be wrong.”

The girls also agreed that art helps them in other subjects such as math when they have to draw diagrams or in science for various projects.

Lally, a member of the National Art Education Association and the Pennsylvania Art Education Association has started a chapter of the National Junior Art Honor Society at the middle school.

The group of sixth-through eighth-graders meets regularly after school. Field trips to area museums and art galleries are also taken.

“Art is in your life every day. It’s not just in this classroom,” Lally said. “A world without art is boring and dark,” she added.

Lally said that the school board and administration understand the arts make a well-rounded child. “If you take that out there’s a hole inside them.”

“I feel like I had a calling to be an art teacher. I absolutely love my job. Every day something new happens,” Lally said. She added, “I’m so glad we have a school board that values the arts.”

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