GREEN BAY - At a time when many school arts budgets are slashed, Green Bay East High School has started an institute for the fine arts—almost all on community donations.
Administrators say the program helps kids stay focused and in school.
Junior Allan Ortega says he can't wait to start playing in the Green Bay East High School Institute of Fine Arts this fall.
“I feel like the fine arts institute would give me a chance for just about anything musical,” said Ortega.
It's the third year of the intense program. Students take on rigorous private instruction and music theory as elective courses, submitting portfolios and performances several times a year.
“It gave me lots of opportunities,” said Ortega.
Opportunities that alumni say didn't exist a few years back, when this school's music program was struggling to survive.
Professional violinist Kassia Frantz says her family jump-started more community involvement around seven years ago.
“I was in orchestra. And my mother came to a concert and she was appalled that there was no grand piano, and she said we have to get this school a grand piano,” said Frantz, who volunteered her time this summer as an instructor at the Fine Arts Institute’s July boot camp.
“The words were no sooner out of her mouth than she had raised, I think, it was about $40,000 privately from donors,” said former principal Ed Dorff.
One piano started it all. After its donation in 2007, other donations followed: up to $1 million in cash and equipment to help this program succeed.
The district budgeted $200,000 for the program last year. Dorff said that included hiring Lucinda Roberts as program director, as well as purchasing a new sound system for the auditorium. Roberts says no taxpayer dollars went towards private instruction last year. All scholarships for more than 30 students in the program were community-based.
“I'd say 90 percent of them were on some sort of scholarship,” said Roberts. “Probably out of those students, at least half of them would not have gotten, they would not have been able to afford private lessons.”
“It was so expensive and it's hard to find a teacher,” said Jasmyne Jacques, a sophomore studying the alto saxophone.
At a school where truancy rates have been high, staff members say the arts institute keeps kids focused.
“We know that our kids that are involved in the arts have at least a full grade-point GPA higher than kids who are not,” said Dorff.
“Ever since I joined choir and orchestra, those classes bring me back every day even if I have to go through my boring old classes that I need,” said Ortega.
This year, the institute will expand to include visual arts, like painting, sculpting and design. Roberts says she hopes dance and musical theatre will soon follow.
Students say they look forward to the expansion.
“I'm so proud of that and I just hope it keeps coming back. That talent and that music, beautiful music keeps coming back to east,” said Ortega.
The fine arts program is also expanding to integrate with Washington Middle School and Webster Elementary. Those schools feed into East High.
But to make the new piano and keyboard lessons at the elementary level a success, Webster Elementary needs your donations. The school is looking for new or gently used keyboards, to help students practice their piano skills outside the classroom. The school needs keyboards with at least 61 keys, a pedal, power adapter and a music book rack. They can be either dropped off at Webster Elementary. Or, for pickup, call 920-448-2143.
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