On the evening of May 1, piano tunes could be heard through the halls of Alston Middle School, coming from the media center, where students were putting on a recital for visiting families.
Students performed songs such as “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion and “Someone Like You” by Adele. There were also older tunes such as “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Edelweiss.”
Alston Fine Arts Director Lorraine White is also the piano and vocal instructor for the school. She said at the beginning of the year many of these students had never even touched a piano before.
“I thought they did a wonderful job,” she said. “That’s the thing about the arts, students are allowed to express themselves artistically.”
Alston is the only school in the district that offers the five components to fine arts – music, dance, art, theatre and creative writing - and part of what makes the school unique is that it does not require students to audition to be a part of the fine arts program.
White said the program is different from sitting in a classroom, learning to do math. The program is incorporated with academics. It makes learning easier and more creative.
“The arts help to educate the whole child,” she said.
Dance Director Amanda Nelson has noted similar observations with her own students.
“I’m kind of proud that we don’t have auditions,” she said, adding her sixth-graders have greatly improved since the beginning of the year, some without any prior experience. “The amount of growth they’ve achieved over the school year is incredible to me. I’m glad we could give them the opportunity to grow and have that experience without having prior experience before coming in.”
The school is looking forward to notable changes in the coming year or so thanks to a district bond referendum. A new fine arts building to be constructed on the campus is one of the projects. Next year, creative writing will no longer be offered as part of the core fine arts programs but will still be offered as an elective to students.
The school has an Arts Curricular Innovation Grant received from the South Carolina Department of Education. The core idea is to teach academic standards in the arts, something Theatre Director Adam Weiner finds very unique about the school.
“Everything that we do we try to bring in the history or the science or do various readings to spark the student’s interest,” Weiner said. “Once students are hearing things from multiple sources it kind of sinks in.”
For example, last school year the school did an Edgar Allen Poe House, during which Alston’s stage was turned into a haunted house with rooms based on the works of Poe. The fine arts groups dramatized the stories, with monologues written by students in creative writing and a student orchestra playing music. This year, Alston did something similar in their Shakespeare House.
Weiner finds that the arts help students develop high-level thinking skills, social skills and creativity.
“You’re also using your own experiences and your own history when you’re creating art,” he said. “... You are taking what you learned in your life and applying it in a way that is unique to yourself.”
White has a sign hanging on the wall of her classroom that lists “the three D’s” to success: desire, discipline and dedication. “I’ve been here 27 years and I can say, in (those) 27 years, we’ve had teachers that have put forth a great effort to try to relate to their students why they teach what they teach,” she said. “That is the love of the art form that they teach and, of course, love gravitates.”