Sketching out success

Fine arts to be a focus for Fuentes Elementary

Turning a spotlight on the visual and performing arts could be the future for Fuentes Elementary after Hays CISD leaders Monday approved a specialty pilot program for the school.

While there are several hurdles still to be crossed, district leaders envision transitioning Fuentes into a fine arts focus campus by the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

Regina Butcher, Fuentes Elementary principal, said April 16 campus staff has worked for a “couple of years now” on the concept of the school focusing on the fine arts.

Alejandro Gongora, Hays CISD superintendent of elementary schools, said a fine arts focus campus differs from a magnet school in that curriculum is inclusive and is taught at all grade levels and to every student.

Butcher said the idea grew “organically” from teachers who sought ways to improve student educational experiences, but also noticed a rise in fine art club participation.

Butcher said programs such as theater arts, which has produced a handful of musicals in the last few years with participation across all grade levels, guided movement toward fine arts.

But a higher goal was to give Fuentes students the opportunity to succeed beyond social struggles. Roughly 53 percent of Fuentes students are considered “at-risk,” with 57 percent of the population on free and reduced lunch.

Butcher April 16 cited research that showed students who participated in creative and performing arts were four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. Addtionally, Butcher said students in the arts had advanced cognitive, social development skills and were “quick thinkers.”

Students can also express their feelings through fine arts, Butcher said.

“They are afraid to talk about their emotions and their feelings,” Butcher said. “The arts and drama helps them deal with those anxieties.”

Gongora said the Fuentes team visited Blackshear Elementary in Austin ISD, also a fine arts focus campus, to gather input on the best way to approach creating the program.

Following approval, the team will now be tasked with ironing out several logistical wrinkles prior to roll-out of the program.

One of those is opening an educator profile, which will give teachers the ability to chime in on what is needed for a fine arts focus campus to take place. The end result is to connect and align Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum with fine arts.

“Having it within the school day, we can reach those kids and teach them in a way maybe they haven’t been taught before,” said Rebecca Leonard, Fuentes Elementary assistant principal.

How Hays CISD deals with student and staff transfers, both in and out of Fuentes, will also be discussed prior to roll-out of the pilot program. On April 16, Gongora said the idea was to limit the program to only Fuentes students, while not allowing transfers during the inaugural year.

Pushback from trustees, however, led district administration to start reaching out to current Kindergarten and first grade parents who could be impacted by the campus. The district could also conduct a survey to gauge the public’s reaction to transfers to and from the campus.

Hays CISD trustee Esperanza Orosco advocated for the fine arts focus idea, but felt the district shouldn’t be closed minded to transfers.

“We want to reach out to teachers who are out there and have a passion for the fine arts,” Orosco said. “I’d hate to waste an opportunity and not engage teachers who want to come to Fuentes.”

Trustee Teresa Tobias, who has a student at Fuentes Elementary, also believed the district could lose an opportunity by closing transfers. Trustee Willie Tenorio believed starting the idea of a focus campus now could allow for it to evolve over time.

“We need to develop different paths to success. Art is another path to success,” Tenorio said. “Having that will enhance overall quality of education throughout the whole district.”

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