Introducing Walnut High School of the Arts

UPDATE: 11/19/15, 9:01 a.m.

Walnut High School of the Arts, a new school program, is being introduced this year to improve the quality of arts education and aid students who wish to pursue arts in the future.

The idea was first proposed seven years ago by band and orchestra directors Corey Wicks and Dr. Buddy Clements, and the program was originally designed to be specifically for instrumental and vocal music.

“Back when we knew we were going to have these facilities, we knew we would be able to dramatically improve the quality of musical education we had to offer,” Clements said. “Now [that] we have the practice rooms, we [can] have coaches come in. It started out as looking ahead to the kinds of things we could do in the future and things we could do that would be innovative and would best service our students.”

The program gradually evolved to also cover dance, drama and art. For each division, a specific director manages the department and what they plan to do. The faculty board involved include art teachers Michelle and Mike O’ Shields, choir director Lisa Lopez, dance teacher Jenny Tomlin, drama teacher Matthew Migliorini and music directors Corey Wicks and Dr. Buddy Clements. All students participating in these divisions are included in the program.

“I love [this program]. I feel like this will pull our arts departments together,” Migliorini said. “Through our common meeting times, we discuss the benefits of this or ways we can set ourselves apart from other schools. I think this fine arts academy is one way to do it.”

The goal of the program is to set a solid foundation for a student’s future and to encourage pursuing an arts career. Seniors will be given an official certificate indicating that they have graduated from a school of the arts. Rather than telling colleges about the classes they’ve taken, they will be able to present a portfolio displaying the work they’ve done. The faculty is planning a parent-student informational night featuring admission officers from universities that will inform students and their families of the benefits of an arts education.

“I think our community is one that values the arts tremendously [and thinks that] they should be part of your life when you’re young. And while people appreciate them, they don’t think there’s any money in [this path]; they don’t think it’s a good career move,” Clements said. “I’ve called and emailed some of [the] representatives [from colleges], and the question was, if a student were to graduate from Walnut High School, if a kid were to sail immediately into your college or university, what would that kid have to look like? We want to help train kids so they have a really great opportunity for a future in the arts.”

Along with the certificate, new courses such as AP Music Theory may be introduced next year. Specifically for the music program, the school is currently working with the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM), an international music program, to administer exams either near the end of this school year or at the beginning of the next. Coaches and alumni have been planned to come in from various colleges have also been invited to give lectures and host clinics.

“I think it’s a really unique opportunity that can help students to get more of an arts school experience without having to actually attend an arts school, which is tough for people to decide to enter there’s more pressure to major in the arts after high school,” junior Christina Braga said. “Walnut High’s program allows us to pursue our passion for the arts while still having a standard high school experience.”

To receive funding for the program, the school has been applying for grants from major corporations in order to financially support the new curriculum.
“The biggest problem is not attracting kids. The challenge is in the innovative nature of the program; currently we need more funding, but this won’t stop us,” Clements said. “We strongly feel that it is an attractive project because it’s innovative – something new and different. There may be schools who have done some of these things but they haven’t attempted the whole package deal that we are trying to achieve at a public high school. We have ideas, concepts and insight that this program will generate new ideas into the arts.”

By Natalie Jiang, Staff writer

Photo by Sajid Iqbal