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Students endorse Unified Arts program

HINESBURG Faced with the challenge of explaining the complexity, diversity and impact of what is called Unified Arts in the Champlain Valley Union High School curriculum to the members of the high school board of directors in one of a series of curriculum reports, Connie Metz, long-time CVU teacher, director of Nichols House and supervisor of the program, chose the people who could best explain the real meaning of the program: the students. On Monday, March 26, six seniors talked to the board about courses they have taken, how the opportunity to include everything from cooking to metal fabrication and choral arts in their studies has increased their enthusiasm for their whole school experience, and in some cases pointed to a future career. Unified Arts is a catch-all title for the curriculum that includes the practical arts from accounting to yearbook, and fine arts from acting to vocal ensembles. Students are required to have a half-credit from the practical column and a half credit from the fine arts column for graduation, but the six students who came to the board meeting chronicled much deeper exploration of the 49 courses taught by ten faculty: 3 art teachers, 1.5 business, 1 family and consumer science, 2 music, 1.5 technical education and 1 theater arts. Metz congratulated the board for their support of the arts in their budgeting and said, We wanted to let you see how influential the arts are, how they help with students academic success. The students made the case with articulate, unscripted, often humorous tales of their experiences in arts classes and made the case for the personal growth involved, the skills they will use throughout their lives and the opportunity to move beyond the basic reading, writing and arithmetic of curriculum. Jared Soule credited the Cooking/Eating Well class not only with making him aware of the importance of good nutrition in general and a good breakfast in particular, but has sparked an interest in cooking. He said that he has found that eating breakfast helps with his schoolwork and gives him energy that even helps him do his homework at night. Siobhan Philbin described her exploration of the fine arts, taking an extensive selection of the offerings that range from drawing and painting to sculpture, and said that the chance to experience many arts disciplines has prompted her to continue in that direction, enrolling in studio arts studies at a school in Florida next year. Jen Leach said that dabbling in different arts courses had built her self-confidence. I was really shy when I started high school, she said. Courses like public speaking take you out of your comfort zone and you can apply what youve learned in so many ways outside of class, in extra curricular activities and sports. Kelsey Francis also described how the experience of daring to sing in front of strangers as a student in the vocal ensemble program, taking that risk, has encouraged her to tackle other challenges she could never have tried. The vocal program, she said, is more about discipline. The practice you must do to be successful is more than the homework you do for the traditional subjects, she said, and that self-motivated practice is a learning experience. Jamie Gunther has also been a student in many of the instrumental and vocal arts classes, as well as being active in student theater. He credited music teachers Carl Recchia and Andy Miskavage with providing not only the practical skills but the role models that have lead him to plan a career as a high school music teacher. Ben Burds pointed to the combination of artsy and practical courses offered in Unified Arts and how both have been valuable to him as he has already been operating his own business. The arts classes are a chance to open your horizons he said, to explore outside of the traditional English and science courses. The entrepreneurship course has given him skills in communication, organization and prioritizing that he will use as he goes on into the career world where he hopes to develop a product that will have real impact in the world. Jason Brown said that he came to high school knowing that he wanted to work with his hands, and that the combination of wood working classes and design technology courses have helped him to focus on a future career, and to decide to study mechanical engineering as a next step. The presentations, with the students often listing a dozen Unified Arts courses they have taken during their high school careers, prompted Board Member Jeff Parker to ask about the challenge of finding time to take the courses that catch their interest, meet the requirements for other core courses and play sports, be in school plays, and do community activities. Responding to his question, Jamie Gunther said that having so many arts classes available had actually taught him a lot about making choices and that he had found the teachers were always ready to help as he weighed the priorities. Jen Leach seconded his observation, saying that when she had to choose between playing soccer and being in the fall musical, her teachers were able to help her find a strategy for choosing. Mrs. Metz said one challenge before the administration is ensuring that Unified Arts courses are available for freshmen and sophomores. We want 100% of the students to get a full experience of the arts, she said. Principal Sean McMannon said that students also get turned on by science and math as well as the arts, but it is important to allocate resources so that the arts can be threaded throughout the curriculum. It will be important in the future to understand the symphony the way all the parts fit together, he said. Thats the world these kids are moving into. Last day of school confirmed After weighing the impact of three snow days this year against the problem that would arise if students were expected to come to school on Monday and Tuesday after CVU graduation in June, the administration recommended that the last day of school for the current year should be Friday, June 15. There will be two professional development days for the teachers during the following week, bring their year up to 189 days as required in their contract, while the students have 178, instead of the usual 180 still ahead of the mandated 175 days for students. CVU Graduation will be on Friday, June 15, with the ceremony happening at Patrick Gym at UVM again this year to accommodate the crowd.

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