FAIRFIELD — Just like the musicals and concerts students continually craft, Fairfield High’s Visual and Performing Arts Academy is a work in progress.
If this past weekend’s performance of “Once Upon a Mattress” is any indication, things are going quite well.
The Visual and Performing Arts Academy pilot program is starting to yield results from teaching core curriculum in groups based on various aspects of the arts.
Music and drama give way to lessons about history and science. Students who love working with their hands are teamed with singers as they combine their talents to make the set and star in the performances.
That was on display Friday as students scrambled around the theater making last-minute adjustments before the show. The band was tucked away backstage, providing the score. Actors made dry runs on the stage. Sound and lighting was controlled by a student working an iPad from the audience.
All these students have been combining their talents while learning together as part of the academy. Those in charge of creating the guidelines for the evolving program said they are seeing the results.
“They are looking at a brand new way of learning. They are showing up because this is what connects them to school,” said Principal Tim Halloran. “This year was more of a planning year. Our goal for next year is a school within a school.”
About 500 students are currently enrolled in the academy and teachers are hoping more sign up for next school year. Ellen Merrick, who teaches English, said she’s forged a new relationship with her students after interacting with them in different settings than the typical classroom.
Brian Swetland, the school’s band director, said he’s seeing students get involved in arts who previously had no experience or desire. He said the trick is to find one interest to bring a student in, which exposes them to other aspects.
That was exactly what brought senior Austyn Rivera to his gig as head sound engineer. He had experience doing sound in the past with his church, but never thought about actively taking part in theater. He manned his iPad as he occasionally instructed some on the stage that their microphone wasn’t working.
“I’ve just never had the drive until now. This is my passion. I’m going to make it my career,” the 17-year-old said. “There’s such a huge spectrum of jobs for this new technology.”
Nicholas Baltodano, who starred as Prince Dauntless, said the learning environment of the academy allows students to explore all aspects of a subject.
“There’s more communication. It just flows better,” he said. “It makes it seem more focused.”
Drama teacher Bob Wagner said the continuity of learning, found by incorporating several subjects into one lesson, breaks the monotony of a typical school day. He said the students also have something they can look at and hold when working on a show.
“It definitely is a tangible product,” Wagner said. “It’s not be quiet, do our work, go to the next class and do it again.”
Reach Danny Bernardini at 427-6935 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbernardinidr.