by DeeGee Lester | Photography by Tiffani Bing
Television has given us a skewed image of schools for the arts as places of high-energy young people with egos on steroids, trampling one another on the road to stardom. “The reality is different,” says Oceana Sheehan, Assistant Principal for Nashville School of the Arts.
“I don’t see a lot of competitive behavior being played out here,“ Sheehan says. “We’re building a community in the classroom in which students develop as individuals as well as a part of the whole. Our teachers do a great job of taking students who come to us from different places—the thirty-three Metro middle schools, as well as private and home-school learning environments—and help them to create a cohesive unit that can collaborate, problem-solve, and build a performance.”
Executive Principal Dr. Gregory Stewart elaborates. “Professional ability with regard to quality instructional expertise abounds at NSA.
The education professionals employed here are masters at developing and utilizing extrinsic motivators towards an intrinsic desire for student achievement. Our philosophy is an overshadowing belief that the integration of artistic passion in addition to academic development affords undeniable comprehension and mastery throughout every area of study.”
NSA students are selected through a rigorous audition process. That process is competitive. For the current academic year 850 students auditioned for 180 slots. Each of the 690 NSA students is passionate about their art—acting, dance, music, and visual arts—and each is focused on exploring ways to express and communicate that passion. Some will become professionals; others will teach, while others will apply their creativity and skills for innovation to business, technology, and other fields.
These students must meet the curriculum standards expected of all MNPS high school students. And then they must go beyond what is expected. With eighty performances each year, it is not unusual for students to rehearse for hours after the close of the school day. Such devotion to their craft requires students to overcome a variety of challenges including transportation to/from rehearsals, the need for additional performance venues, and the need for greater access to state-of-the-art technologies.
Still, NSA students can “wow” us. Last year, NSA Madrigal Singers performed onstage with the world-famous Chieftains. From the Battle of the Bands and talent shows to competitive classes such as the Swing Band, the Pops Ensemble, and a new capstone dance piece in which students audition and create their own dance company and choreography, the arts repeatedly provide a more enriched educational experience.
Beyond the immediate educational value, NSA teachers and students see the long-term benefits for Nashville, with the school providing a powerful springboard for growing arts in the community. Sheehan easily expresses the greatest value of the arts: “It connects with the heart.”
For more information, visit www.nsahs.mnps.org.