PUBLISHED AUG. 11, 2016
By CARL MARIO NUDI
Teachers, staff, and volunteer students hustled through the halls and classrooms of Manatee School for the Arts last week, getting ready for the first day of school on Aug. 11.
“I’ve been in the classroom all summer getting ready,” said Cindy Williams, a sixth-grade language arts teacher. “It’s an ongoing job when you’re a teacher.
“There is a lot of curriculum preparation as well as physical preparation (getting the classroom in order and collecting educational resources),” said Williams, who has been teaching at the charter school since it started in 1998.
Principal Bill Jones founded Manatee School for the Arts as an institution where educational achievement could be obtained by including the arts in the academic curriculum.
Jones said studying the arts involves more than just memorizing a song or drawing a picture.
“The arts train the mind to explore possibilities,” he said, “evaluate endless options and create new things.
The school has achieved its goal to maintain high academic standards while providing students advanced study and training in the visual and performing arts.
“We continue to have high performance marks in the state standards,” said Jones, who earned a foundation of education doctorate from the University of Florida in 1978.
Assistant Principal for Art Education Lisa DiFranza said the dance classes are so popular with the students that there are eight studios.
The school, located at 700 Haben Blvd., Palmetto, also offers classes in theatre, visual art, graphic art and music, along with an academic curriculum that includes language arts, math, science and social studies.
This year all of the classes will have a specific theme, DiFranza said.
“We’re going to have the students do an investigation of the American dream,” she said. “They will be asked, ‘What does the American dream mean to you?’
“It’s perfect this year with the election on everyone’s mind,” said DiFranza, who started her second year as an assistant principal.
At the beginning of the year the students will be asked where they think they fit in the American dream, she said.
“Then at the end of the year we’ll see if their ideas have changed and what new perspectives came up,” DiFranza said.
DiFranza said she was especially excited about how this year’s theme will help the students prepare for the school’s annual Veteran’s Week activities.
There may be a mock election, or speech presentations such as, “If I were president.”
“And in the art photography class we could have an assignment of a photo essay on the American dream and then have an exhibition,” said DiFranza, who has a master’s degree in theology and the arts, and a background as a theatre director and teacher.
Starting in the seventh grade, students at Manatee School for the Arts can take eight different subjects a week. Along with their core academic classes of language arts, math, science and social studies, they can choose from a wide variety of arts electives.
In dance, there are classes in ballet, ballroom, tap/jazz, modern, hip hop, world and Irish dance.
The school offers a variety of music classes, including guitar, keyboard, orchestra, band and chorus.
And in the visual arts, a student can study the traditional areas of painting, drawing and sculpture, and other hands-on techniques, or they can take digital and graphic arts courses, including photography and using computers.
There are also classes in dramatic and musical theatre, as well as stagecraft and production skills.
“New this year, we’ve added a tech theatre lab where students learn lighting and sound techniques for stage and video,” DiFranza said.
Incoming sixth graders must enroll in survey classes where they get a sample of the various arts programs.
“This gives the students a chance to experience things they may have never tried,” Jones said.
They may discover talents they never knew they had, he said.
This program served 11th-grader Zachary Lasebny well.
“I’m excited about the new school year,” Lasebny, 16, said. “There’s a lot of good stuff happening this year.”
He plays the saxophone, clarinet and flute, and is planning to study music after graduation, so he has four or five music classes this year.
“I’m also interested in science, so I’m taking a couple of science classes,” Lasebny said.
It also will be an interesting year for 16-year-old Lori Anne Scandalito.
The 11th grader will take advantage of the arts courses.
“I’ll be working on the video crew and learn filming, lighting and editing,” Scandalito said. “I love editing.”
The first classes in 1998 were held in a refurbished bowling alley.
Since then, the campus now consists of four buildings, including two theatres, dance studios, music rooms, academic classrooms, science labs, a library and cafeteria.
In 1998, there were 250 sixth and seventh graders. Eighth grade was added two years later, and an additional grade every year thereafter.
This year there will be almost 2,100 students, with more than 90 teachers.
Jones said the annual budget is around $14 million.
Being a public charter school under the supervision of the Manatee School Board, there is no tuition to attend Manatee School for the Arts.
For more information about the school, go to msfta.org.