Wellington The Magazine-August 2016
Story and Photos by Julie Unger
Expanded fine arts programs at Wellington schools are making it easier for art, band, chorus, dance and drama students, among others, to further their artistic education without leaving the community.
No longer do these students need to be bused out to specialty schools now that several area schools at all grade levels are expanding their fine arts academies. With the addition of a new fine arts choice program at Wellington Elementary School, local students can now follow an expanded fine arts curriculum from Wellington Elementary School to Wellington Landings Middle School, and on to Wellington High School.
Perhaps nowhere is this expanded curriculum more noticeable than in the amazing show beings produced by Wellington kids at all levels. At the very end of the last school year, Wellington Elementary Choral Director Dave Morrison led his students in a mesmerizing performance of Annie Kids. At WHS, Drama Director Dennis Schaber directed, designed and choreographed while Chorus Director Bradford Chase provided musical direction for recent productions such as Guys and Dolls and The Addams Family. Wellington Landings will be getting ready for its first production this school year.
Wellington Elementary Principal Dr. Maria Vaughan explained that she worked with Wellington Landings Principal Blake Bennett and WHS Principal Mario Crocetti on the creation of this integrated fine arts curriculum once she realized that her colleagues were also working on expanding their fine arts programming.
Aligning the programs, she explained, is the ideal scenario, because it gives the students continuity and somewhere to go.
“When you set up an academy, you really want it to have the kids be able to transition from each level — elementary, middle and high,” Vaughan said. “Once we realized all three of us were doing that, we met and talked about what we were offering at our school and what they’re offering at the middle and high school levels to try to make sure that we’re offering the same types of programs.”
For Vaughan, it’s exciting to work with nearby schools in this groundbreaking project. For her students, she said, it is also exciting because it gives them a glimpse at the future.
“It gives them a goal and ambition. It gives them motivation to continue doing well where they are, and helps them to strive for what’s at the next level,” Vaughan said.
The schools performed together at Wellington Elementary in the spring, with the chorus directors of each school speaking about their respective programs. Chase and Morrison joined Alayna Morton, the chorus director at Wellington Landings, to discuss the hard work and dedication it takes to be a choral student. Even in elementary school, rehearsals are up to four times a week, and it can take months to perfect a song. “It was an amazing experience for the kids,” Vaughan said.
About two months later, Vaughan’s students performed Annie Kids, and all three principals were on hand to enjoy the production. “It is absolutely amazing what Mr. Morrison has done with that program,” Vaughan added. “That show was just astounding. I don’t know how he’s going to top this one. It was pretty amazing, from the costumes to the set design to the acting… I’m very proud to be a part of that and to be able to help make that possible.”
Vaughan is looking forward to developing the school’s strings program with kindergartners and seeing the fine arts progress and integrate into the school’s curriculum. Hand bells, guitar, ukulele, TV production, art, journalism, chorus, drama, the student news crew and yearbook are just some of the ways the students have become engrossed in Wellington Elementary’s new fine arts academy. She noted that students will be able to select their strengths and develop as the program evolves.
Through the drama program, Vaughan said, once the students know what they are expected to do, they rise to the challenge and consistently exceed expectations. As students excel in the arts, other areas improve. “This is going to really impact the whole child. We’re looking forward to seeing how our kids are going to blossom,” she said.
At Wellington Landings, students do not need to have prior experience to take part in the fine arts curriculum, Bennett explained. Advanced classes, however, are audition-based.
Each student has two elective classes that can be filled with fine arts academy classes, such as journalism, band, chorus, hand bells, dance, art, speech/debate, law studies, drama and TV production.
Out-of-boundary students have to apply to the Wellington Landings academy, but all students zoned for the school automatically have access to the program.
“When I first came here, all we had was band, chorus, art and hand bells. All of the other ones, I’ve added over the years in hopes of pulling it all together to be a fine arts academy,” Bennett said.
Starting as early as kindergarten, Bennett said, allows the students to discover what they enjoy and where the arts take them. Having the options from kindergarten through their senior year in high school is a huge opportunity for the kids, she added.
Unlike specialty schools, the students at Wellington Landings are able to shift their focus from one type of fine arts to another and are able to take part in multiple classes, choosing to use one or both of their electives for fine arts classes.
“They’re performance-based classes, where they’re not being graded paper- and pencil-wise, they’re graded by their projects, products and performances,” Bennett said. “For example, in TV production, they’ll be producing the news — live. They’ll be writing scripts and producing.”
Children get to explore their creative side and are able to find different interests through arts programs, she explained.
“I think it’s just great for the kids,” Bennett said. “I think every community should have all the arts programs so that children can benefit from them. I’m really glad that the three of us worked together to make sure that all of the kids can enjoy the programs through their entire K-12 experience.”
On Aug. 8, new students can attend an orientation at Wellington Landings, where incoming sixth-graders can get their bearings.
As students progress to high school, they have access to remain with high-quality arts programs without leaving the Wellington area, Crocetti explained.
“We’ve had a fine arts program for quite a while, but with Wellington Landings and Wellington Elementary jumping on board, it makes a nice progression,” he said. “I’ve seen Wellington Landings students perform over the years and had the opportunity to see Wellington Elementary’s presentation of Annie, which was just phenomenal. It’s going to be a great pipeline.”
As part of the integrated program, the high school theater is going to be made available to the elementary and middle schools, Crocetti said.
Each of the schools are bringing in somewhere between 40 and 60 students from outside their boundaries to participate in their programs.
“They’re moving in all different aspects of the arts, whether it be the visual arts, vocal, instrumental, dance, theater — all areas,” Crocetti said.
Chase is excited about the new integrated fine arts curriculum, adding that it will make his job easier — especially with recruitment. “Having these kids discover what they’re interested in and find their passion, when they come to the high school, they’ll seek us out,” he said. “By the time they get to high school, we should have some students who are not only passionate about what they do, but they’ll also have training in those various art areas.”
In high school, the students take two fine arts classes each year and are encouraged to try different arts to be exposed to different things, he explained.
The WHS academy is in its third year and continues to grow. This is the first year with open doors through the lottery system.
Crocetti is excited to see what students from outside the area bring to the program through a fresh perspective and different, diverse points of view. “They’re an asset to the school,” he said. “They come with a different perspective,” he said.
All three Wellington schools are designated as choice schools, and are accepting students from out of the area to join in the programs. Students outside school boundaries are able to apply for the programs through the Palm Beach County School District.
For more info., visit www.palmbeachschools.org/choiceprograms or contact the schools directly. Call Wellington Elementary at (561) 651-0600, Wellington Landings at (561) 792-8100 or Wellington High School at (561) 795-4900.