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North Hills Monthly

Students Follow Passions in Creative and Performing Arts Schools

Jan 01, 2018 02:08PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

A performance at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School (CAPA).

Despite living in a STEM-focused world, the arts are still a crucial part of education.

While many area school districts offer arts electives and give students the chance to participate in theater and music, some students opt to enroll in arts-immersive schools in which the arts are a major part of the daily curriculum. Some of these students attend these schools to prepare for a career in the arts, while others are seeking to explore their passions and work with like-minded peers.

Westinghouse Arts Academy is the newest such school. Housed in the former Westinghouse Memorial High School in Wilmerding, the school’s inaugural year began this past September, with 107 enrolled high school students. Westinghouse Arts Academy is a public charter school and therefore offers a typical public school curriculum. But interwoven with science, math and history is a rich array of classes in such disciplines as literary arts, theatre, studio arts, digital arts and dance.

“We are really looking for students who have that passion and potential in an artistic area,” said Amy Heathcott, principal, adding that the school uses a blended learning approach, combining traditional classroom instruction with project-based learning.

Potential students need to apply online, and each discipline has a different audition requirement. Heathcott said that the student body is varied, with some children having had years of training in their art, while others have not had the opportunity to do so. She added that students choose arts schools both to gain in-depth insight into what goes into working in the field as well as to attend school with others who share their passions.  

Upcoming renovations will add more space to the building, enabling the school to accommodate additional students.

Some children ride a bus two hours each way to attend Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, PA. Like Westinghouse Arts Academy, Lincoln Park is a charter school and provides a state-mandated educational curriculum while offering a variety of classes for students who want to get their creative juices flowing.

Currently, Lincoln Park has 750 students in grades 7-12. The CEO of the school, Patrick Poling, said that the student body consists of children from 77 different school districts representing seven counties in western Pennsylvania.

Lincoln Park offers six disciplines: music, dance, theater, literary arts, media and health, and science and the arts. Prelaw and the arts will soon be added. Poling said that the media department, which offers classes in drawing, painting, graphic design, audio and video engineering, is the fasting growing discipline. To gain admission, prospective students are evaluated in their chosen area.

“If you look at what has been trending, a lot of arts programs have been cut in schools, especially in smaller school districts,” said Poling. 

Students have many performance opportunities, which take place at the adjacent Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. “We benefit in that our kids can be involved in major productions that are put on by the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center,” said Poling.

Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School—also known as CAPA—is a full magnet school located in the Cultural District that serves grades 6-12. It is part of the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Admission into CAPA is audition-based, and prospective students must also submit essays and recommendations. Students can audition for admission into one of eight artistic disciplines: literary arts, vocal music, instrumental music, theater arts, dance, visual arts, piano, and production technology. As CAPA receives twice as many applicants as they can fit, applicants who do not gain entry are allowed to re-audition the following school year. First priority is given to city of Pittsburgh residents.

“We really focus on the conservatory model, which is geared toward enhanced study of an art form for up to three hours each day,” said Melissa Pearlman, principal, adding that the students follow the Pittsburgh Public Schools' core curriculum, which also includes AP classes.

Pearlman said that the arts play a vital role in learning and that no art form exists in isolation. “When you are creating art, working collaboratively with other students, building self-discipline and performing in front of others, you’re prepared for any career in any industry,” she explained.

CAPA puts on between 300 and 500 shows annually, ranging in scope from small concerto concerts to full-scale musicals, all of which are open to the public. Pearlman added that about 30 percent of CAPA graduates will matriculate on to a conservatory or will major in their art form in college.

The 900 students at CAPA benefit from having teachers who are working in their fields. “Our arts teachers are all practicing artists in the community,” said Pearlman. “When students see their teachers as artists, as practitioners, it gives them a true sense of how they can use these skills in the art world.”