It’s midday on a Friday at Glacier High School, and the students in the school’s arts wing are hard at work. Some are learning to cut into copper sheets in the metalsmithing class; others are creating designs in the digital arts class, while still others are working their way through a musical percussion piece on stage in the main theater.
Nearby, a classroom of students working on acting skills is also underway.
The students are diligent and concentrated; any vestiges of teenage aloofness or mischief melt off their faces as they perform their tasks. The classes are either full or nearly so, showing a level of appreciation for the arts among the student population.
“The classes are packed and we’re already needing to expand,” art teacher Josh Lancaster said. “It’s a good problem to have.”
In a time when many school districts across the country are looking to cut art programs to meet budgeting demands, Glacier High is taking the opposite route.
Instead of reducing or minimizing the opportunities, Glacier has doubled down, creating the new Fine Arts Academy for the 2014-2015 school year, which will allow students to focus on four-year plans in music, theater, or visual arts.
The academy is similar to the existing Engineering Academy, which started up successfully last school year, and the Agriculture Academy. Students who complete the four-year Art Academy plan will receive a cord of distinction at graduation, along with those who completed the other academy or the Merit Scholar program.
“It does set you apart from the rest of the student body,” Lancaster, who is also an art academy program director, said. “Any four of those cords is a high honor.”
A student with a Fine Art Academy completion on their school record will also have a way of setting themselves apart from the rest when moving on to their post-high school pursuits, said Glacier Principal Callie Langohr.
The art academy is the brainchild of three teachers at the high school: Lancaster, David Barr, the head of the music program, and theater department head Ivanna Fritz.
Lancaster said they saw a multitide of students for whom art or music or acting is the activity they know they excel at and choose to spend their time honing, the same way other students put time and energy toward sports.
By having an art academy, these students can be rewarded for their dedication, he said.
Glacier isn’t a stranger to emphasizing the arts. The school, which opened in 2007, has a state-of-the-art black box theater; a large performance hall; big, open art rooms; multiple kilns; the technology for digital arts; work rooms for stage creations; and more.
The school has also implement Advanced Placement (AP) classes for three-dimensional studio art, such as sculpture or jewelry.
Before the development of the art academy, registering for art classes was more of an à la carte process, Lancaster said. Now, students choose a discipline and work their way through the course, from introductory classes eventually to AP classes.
Seniors are required to have a public show to exhibit their art, Lancaster said, and are responsible for marketing it and the installation.
The academy will also focus on getting students involved in the flourishing art community in the Flathead Valley, with its variety of professional theater companies and working artists.
And on April 25 and 26, Glacier will be the epicenter for visual arts during the Montana Arts Interscholastics conference, wherein up to 300 high school art students will gather and interact with new students and professional artists; get formal critiques of their own work; and learn new art skills.
It’s all part of nurturing a student’s education, Lancaster said, since the arts complement other learning areas, such as math or science-focused classes. As with all art, there’s only potential for growth within the new academy.
“For the size of school we are, this type of program is awesome,” Lancaster said.
For more information on the Fine Arts Academy at Glacier High School, visit www.sd5.k12.mt.us/domain/583.
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