As one walks through Notre Dame Preparatory during B period, the sound of trumpets, drums, guitars, and saxophones fill the air. The jazz ensemble class practices every B period. This class takes place in the pods, located next to the school cafeteria. Its thin walls allow for boisterous and energetic music to be heard all throughout campus as soon as one steps foot outside.
Senior Katelyn Halmekangas said, “It always lifts my spirits from the occasional gloominess of NDP when I walk outside and hear the band practicing.”
Jazz ensemble is one of numerous fine arts classes available in a rising program that includes drama, painting and sculpture. A large selection of guitar classes are offered every year, ranging from guitar 1, guitar 2, advanced guitar, and guitar orchestra.
Bob Powers has been teaching guitar and jazz at NDP for over six years and has been extremely influential in expanding the fine arts program. A former instructor at Phoenix College and the Metropolitan Arts Institute, Powers influences students by teaching the history of music. His pride and joy is the jazz ensemble class. Powers has high hopes for the future of fine arts at NDP, but he does contend that there is a plenty of work to be done.
Powers stated, “A building is number one on my concerns because I think it will build respect for what we do.”
Other teachers share Power’s sentiments, including drama director Bonnie Wilson. She has been teaching at NDP since 2003 and has developed drama into a high quality program.Yet there is only so much she can do without the proper space a fine arts building would provide.
Wilson said, “I have had many students come up to me and suggest plays for us to do and many of them we cannot do because our stage in the cafeteria is just not big enough to support some of these productions.”
Powers added, “There are many problems that we have with scheduling events, finding places that are appropriate for our students to be able to find a good place to perform. But I think that it’s like a field of dreams, ya know. You build it, they will come. If we build this fine arts building, I think eventually we will have an even more thriving arts community.”
Powers teaches guitar and jazz ensemble in the pods, located adjacent to the school cafeteria, facing the gym parking lot. He has been in the pods for three years. Previously, he taught jazz in Room 501 and used the gym lobby to teach his guitar classes. These areas were nowhere near sufficient for teaching music and the pods have created a space dedicated solely to music. This small improvement of moving to the pods made a world of difference, and another change is set for Fall 2018, when music classes will move to the building on the far north part of campus, where technology classes are currently taught. Possibly in the not-to-distant future an arts building will be constructed on the land south of Bemis Field.
All the programs have been highlighted by recent Fine Arts Festivals, including a Semester 1 event on Dec. 5, and a Semester 2 event on April 25. New NDP principal Jill Platt boosted the events with increased publicity and a more festive atmosphere. Busy families could enjoy entertainment while noshing on tasty foods, as several food truck companies, including the Mustache Pretzel, sold food on campus.
For the Dec. 5 event, a large stage was set up by the Chapel, in between the 500 and 700 buildings. It was used for Deanna Hudson’s choir class performance, and later in the night, Power’s jazz ensemble performed, followed by Philip Hemmo’s guitar orchestra. The cafeteria stage was used for presenting poetry written by students, and a play performed by Mrs. Wilson’s acting class. It told the story of a crime taking place in a fairy tale land. In the library, space was cleared for dance classes to perform.
In front of the senior commons, Josh Babu, Sophia Kezirian, Robbie Bateman, and Powers performed a rendition of “Location” by Khalid with a Latin American twist.
Powers said, “We’ve had a lot more support from administration. As always, there’s room for improvement, but it’s better every year.”
Kezirian, who plays the bass in the jazz ensemble said, “I mean we were in the library last year. This year we got an actual stage. We got an actual sound crew. It was nice to be in more of a central spot too. I feel like more people could come and see us and more people knew about it.”
While Notre Dame has been improving its program, many other schools have been struggling. An article titled “Arts integration in an era of accountability” reported a decline around the nation of fine arts in schools, particularly public schools. Specifically, it highlighted a series of principals in New York, New Mexico, Maryland and Illinois who were surveyed by the Center for Basic Education. It found that a quarter of these schools suffered a decrease in fine arts education, while only eight percent gained an increase.
Another study, titled ‘The Arts Matter”, presented by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, tracked the effects of the arts programs in five schools in Great Britain. All five schools were shown to have an exceptional arts program, which ensured that the data collected from students would accurately reflect whether fine arts impact a student.
Interviews with staff, teachers, and students sought to determine the effects of involvement in fine arts. One drama teacher said, [fine arts give] “another dimension to [ students’ ] lives, which isn’t just a factual mechanical dimension. It is something that is a life inside their head; it’s an imaginative life, a creative life that it gives them.”
There was a similar finding at NDP, and Powers shared similar sentiments.
“I think I teach a lot more than just how to play the guitar,” Powers said. “I talk a lot about perseverance and life, and the struggles I’ve experienced. So I think that kids do get affected by my classes in more than just musical ways,” he said.
A book titled Strong Arts, Strong Schools, highlights how a well-built fine arts program can positively affect students. The book features The Students, Parents, Educators, Children, Teachers Rediscover the arts, or SPECTRA for short, which is an example of a program that integrates fine arts more deeply into the students’ lives and has shown outcomes from which NDP can learn. This program allows for one hour a day to be dedicated to art, music, drama, etc.
It has been successfully implemented in two schools in Ohio: Fairfield and Hamilton. An evaluation of this program was completed in which the SPECTRA students were compared with students from two other schools who did not participate in this program and acted as a control group. In total there were 600 students in this study. SPECTRA students scored higher in math, reading, and vocabulary compared to students from the two control schools. This shows that a when a strong fine arts program is implemented into a school, it produces higher-scoring students.
Ciera Babbrah, an NDP senior who has completed all levels of guitar, said, “I definitely think it has helped me become a better student. I’m more focused and attentive in class because I always look forward to going to guitar.”
Platt concurred, “I believe a well-rounded education is the best education for all students, which includes expanding the mind through a robust arts program. The arts allow us to utilize our brains differently and expand our minds. They are critically important, and they are so vast that everyone can find a place whether through theatre or painting, graphic arts or 3D arts they are all important.”
To conclude, the fine arts program at NDP has been on the rise the past few years. As evidenced in multiple studies, strong fine arts programs are extremely beneficial to students.