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Arundel school administrators, families discuss arts magnet program

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As Anne Arundel school officials outlined the system's planned Performing Visual Arts program for high schools, they stressed to parents the kind of students they're looking to enroll: those with an unbridled energy and passion for their art.

Many parents who listened to the information session Tuesday night could relate.

"If you have one of these kids in your house, you'll know it. And hopefully, people will take away that this is an elite program for that particular child, and they will encourage those children to participate, "said Nicole Dunn of Millersville, whose ninth-grade daughter Bria has a recording studio at home.

"We can get students interested in music in any age, in any group, but those really passionate kids are a different breed," Dunn said. "They do need a specific educational path geared for them."

Many parents who attended the information session at Old Mill High School in Millersville were encouraged that the school system was providing a major outlet for their children to express their artistic talents and align themselves with like-minded students who share a passion. The Performing Visual Arts magnet program for high schools is a first-time endeavor that will offer students a chance to work with arts professionals while extending their school day four times a week.

The program is set to launch for ninth- and 10th-graders in August and will be housed at Annapolis and Broadneck high schools. In addition, the program partners with Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts and Anne Arundel Community College.

Study areas will include dance, theater, creative and dramatic writing, 3-D studio art, film and technical production/arts management.

The program will call for students' school days to be extended by nearly three hours Monday through Thursday. County high schools typically run from 7:17 a.m. to 2:05 p.m.; the magnet schools program would end at 4:45 p.m.

"Some [parents] are concerned about the long hours, but then … it may not be the program for those students," said Lori Snyder, performing and visual arts teaching specialist. "These are the students I see when I go to high schools right now, those still at school at 6 [p.m.] with two other kids working on a piece of music, because that's what they want to do."

The program would ultimately be offered for 11th- and 12th-grade students. School officials said that they envision the program will eventually include about 800 students.

The school system currently has two middle-school Performing Visual Arts magnet programs, at Bates and Brooklyn Park.

Most parents said they were encouraged about the chance to connect their children with working artists and professionals that the magnet program would offer.

The program was welcome news for students such as Lexi Pline, a ninth-grader at Annapolis High School, who was in the county's magnet program at Bates.

"It will be nice knowing that I have the option, because I'm really focused on the arts," said Lexi. "It really helps me learn to do arts things, and I like the longer art classes."

Jennifer Sherman of Millersville said her daughter Emily is very artistic and "not your typical high school student personality-wise, so to me this might be a way to find children who are like her.

"My biggest concern is that she wouldn't get in, if she really wants to," Sherman said. "I think if she really wants it, she can handle it."

Nicole Dunn compared the program to the offerings at Baltimore's School for the Arts, which she said can be difficult to get into, particularly for children who don't live in the city. She said parents should take advantage of the county's program.

Some parents of current middle-school Performing Visual Arts students expressed concern that their children might not be selected for the high school program.

Snyder said that there are a certain number of seats in each arts discipline, and if the number of students who qualify for a program exceeds the number of seats, the county would hold a random lottery. Those not chosen would be put on a waiting list.

"We're looking to prepare kids who want to go onto college and preparatory schools and consider arts as their career," Snyder said.

Steve Conyer of Crofton, whose daughter Mollei is a seventh-grader in the magnet program at Bates, said that if students are not selected, they would have to attend high school within their jurisdiction and forgo friendships they have forged with like-minded students in the middle-school magnet program.

"This started for her in the sixth grade, so what happens is that all your friends in your neighborhood aren't your friends anymore," said Conyer. "Your new friends are at Bates. You're going to parties, to sleepovers, ski trips with those kids over there.

"I just think they're not thinking this thing out," he said. "The criteria are pretty low. I think there are tons of kids who are going to make it, but their names are going to be put in a hat. Are you getting the best and the brightest?"

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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