The Way I See It: The future of Center of Performing Arts at McDowell
Funding is low, so arts are first to go -- same old story, or different case?
Recently, the Millcreek Township School Board announced a decision to essentially cut the McDowell Center of Performing Arts program from McDowell High School.
And by recently and essentially, I mean teachers were told this past Friday, May 9 that the school board is planning to eliminate the curriculum as it stands and rather offer a supplemental after school program. Back in 2003, the School Board had thought the arts were vitally important and recognized the need to enhance the arts in education so they developed the CPA. And since then, the program has grown exponentially. Currently the Center serves the needs of over 1,000 students annually.
According to the McDowell CPA website, the CPA is the most comprehensive and fully integrated high school department of its kind in Northwestern Pennsylvania, and the programs within contribute to the academic lives of a large portion of McDowell students. The CPA has several areas of curriculum within their department. Areas ranging from instrumental ensembles and jazz band, to several choirs and vocal ensembles. They also have an award-winning marching band, are renowned for their theatrical productions, encompass instrumental and vocal groups, and showcase several award-winning musicians, singers, dancers, and actors. They also boast two annual full-scale musicals, and a dinner theater production. Essentially they offer something for everyone's talent who has an interest in theater either on stage, in the orchestra pit, or behind the scenes. In addition, the Center holds classes during the school day – such as technology design, writing, acting, etc.
This decision is in part due to the ongoing financial saga that the school district continues to experience. While they are making efforts to move past their history of cash management issues, lack of budget control, and inconsistent financial practices – for a $90 million operation – they still continue to suffer the effects of what's been built by the previous board and superintendent.
What preempted this movement though, was that Michael Malthaner, the CPA's director will be retiring at the end of the school year. And as such, they have chosen to not replace him.
"We need to demonstrate support for the CPA program and to encourage the school board and administrators to keep the program intact," says Julie Weyand, whose son Luke is active in the school's performing arts program. "My son will be a senior next year and he just found out that he was accepted into the University of Michigan's summer musical theatre camps – one of only 40 students in the entire country chosen. I attribute his involvement in the CPA as one of the main catalysts that got him to where he is today."
We all see the financial difficulties in education and almost always when there's trouble, the arts programs are the first to go. But do these individuals involved in these decisions ever look at the success of the young men and women that have come through programs such as these? Studies have shown, time and time again, that educational performance through the arts not only enriches the learning experience in students but also helps to improve performance overall in school.
The arts provide more than a performance-based experience, they teach us some of the most vital skills and traits that help make us successful in life. Skills and traits like leadership, confidence, perseverance, focus, the ability to take constructive criticism, dedication, and accountability.
And these are just a few – but they are integral to success in life. Presidents throughout history, CEOs, and industry leaders from non-arts based organizations such as Microsoft, Xerox, GE, and many others, have all expressed the need for education in the arts.
Not only is this a program that shouldn't be cut – it should be better funded. The school board should look at the results of this program and instead of taking the easy way out; they need to find a creative way to keep this program alive. There's an opportunity to create a model of excellence here that doesn't thrive in many educational institutions. It's time for us to demand all students have access to quality arts education, not just the lucky few – or worse yet, none at all.
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[Editor's note: This article has been modified to more accurately reflect the definition of the CPA.]