For visual arts teacher William Talenti, Progress Village Middle Magnet School is a place to call home. Named “Art Teacher of the Year” by the Hillsborough County School Board, Talenti says the school’s reputation is what caused him to return to middle school after teaching in magnet high schools for the past 10 years.
“The school and administration you work for is very important,” said Talenti. “As a teacher in the arts, it’s crucial to have somebody who understands how you do things and supports the creative process.”
At Progress Village, students choose from 16 electives, including orchestra, business technology, dance and drama in addition to core classes infused with art. Because the arts are integrated into every subject, it makes students approach every project from a more creative perspective.
Students from as far away as Wimauma, Brandon and Walden Lake commute to Progress Village just to be a part of the enriching environment of the school.
“There are so many great teachers and great programs here,” said 8th grader Jenna Kensicki. “I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.” Upon graduation, Jenna plans to attend the Howard W. Blake High School, also a Hillsborough County magnet school emphasizing the arts.
There’s been a dramatic increase in magnet schools that have sprung up in the U.S. in the past decade — around 4,000 schools that enroll 2.5 million students nationwide, according to Magnet Schools of America. Magnet schools offer students opportunities to pursue their individual talents and interests alongside their core academic subjects. Hillsborough’s philosophy maintains that magnet schools “connect kids to the real world.”
Walking around Progress Village gives you a warm, welcoming feeling, as staff and students collaborate on projects and openly discuss exciting new ideas. It would seem that the school has tapped into the secret of what brings creative thinking to the forefront of the educational experience.
“The relationship between the teachers and kids here is really special,” said Talenti. “And when the environment is fun, it keeps it stimulating for both the students and the teachers.”
Some of the projects created by Talenti’s students at Progress Village this year include a stage set eerily reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, as well as imaginative action figures sculpted to depict favorite student sports.
Also in predominant display in Talenti’s classroom is a large multilayered “non-objective” group painting, done as a performance piece in front of Blake High School students.
“The act of making it was as important as the final result,” said Talenti.
To its credit, Progress Village has been deemed a School of Distinction nearly every year of the past decade, according to the Florida Department of Education. And while magnet schools may have started out to assist areas where the population was less ethnically and culturally diverse, they now provide parents with an attractive public alternative to private schools.
Progress Village makes it a priority to educate the surrounding community about its educational programs, even going so far as distributing pamphlets around town to attract parents and potential students.
“We get a lot of support from the community,” said Talenti, who seizes every opportunity to display student artwork in public spaces and businesses around the Tampa Bay area.
Incoming students at Progress Village can expect to travel through “The Wheel” when they arrive — a rotation of every elective the school offers — to introduce them to band instruments, theater, and design specialties such as fashion and computer graphics. Students are also offered classes to prepare for their futures in high school and college programs through the AVID college prep program,
“It’s a really happy place to be,” said Talenti of his school, “and when the teachers are happy, the kids are happy.”
Progress Village Middle Magnet School for the Arts is at 8113 Zinnia Drive in Tampa. For more information, visit: progressvillage.mysdhc.org or call 813-671-5110.