As Coronado School of the Arts (CoSA) begins its 21st year, its staff and students are downright celebratory over recent developments.
First, the Coronado Unified School District (CUSD) just got word that it has been awarded a $1.25 million Department of Defense (DoD) grant specifically for arts education.
“It’s the fourth such grant for the district and the first for the arts,” explained Shane Schmeichel, CoSA’s director and vice principal at Coronado High School for the past five years. “The spirit of DoD grants is to support military families who are subject to frequent moves that can interfere with students’ academic success.”
The grant’s timeline covers five years, and dovetails with the district’s five-year strategic plan that includes three goals: arts education for every year of education for all students; professional development in arts education for all teachers; and community engagement.
“We are fortunate to be in this community that founded the Coronado Arts Commission five years ago,” said Schmeichel. “We recently had an exhibit of our students’ work at the city’s C3 gallery at the Coronado Community Center. With the Coronado Schools Foundation and the newly named Coronado Arts Education Foundation (formerly the CoSA Foundation), we can raise the tide of arts experiences for our students.”
Schmeichel cited other areas of community engagement: “Yesterday our dance conservatory made a field trip to watch a performance of the Mojalet Dance Collective in San Diego and they’ll be performing our December concert with them on our stage,” he said. “Our instrumental music students will perform a concert with the Coronado Community Band. We’ll have more guest artists visiting our conservatories this year and we’re always looking for opportunities to combine forces — students and adults.”
Last winter, the district added an elementary school band. There is also an elementary choir. “These are free for students and taught by certificated teachers,” Schmeichel said. (See the related story on page 22 about Matt Heinecke, the school district’s new music director).
The benefits of arts education are manifold, said Schmeichel. “Arts provide opportunities to be creative and develop critical thinking, cooperation and communication skills,” he said. “The ultimate goal is that arts experiences provide an outlet for students to find their own personal strengths.
“All of this is important in that we are building capacity for our students to choose more intensive arts experiences at the high school level if that is their interest,” he said. “All students at CoSA and CHS benefit from a diverse cadre of students from both Coronado and the San Diego area.”
CoSA, an intensive arts school on the campus of Coronado High School, is composed of six conservatories — technical theater, classical and contemporary dance, instrumental music, musical theater and drama, visual arts, and digital media.
This year CoSA has its largest percentage of Coronado students participating in the program: 40 of the 70 freshman hail from Coronado.
“When we go through the audition process, we prefer not to know where the students are from,” Schmeichel said. “We are primarily interested to uncover if they have the passion and just enough background experience to indicate that three-hour-a-day additional classes are something they can manage.
“It is our goal to provide intensive arts experiences for those students that are interested; to make sure CoSA is a good fit,” he added.
For example, Schmeichel noted that the students who are in the current production of Grease arrive at school at 7:45 a.m., take five hours of core classes, then three hours of CoSA intensive, then two hours of Grease rehearsal. “So it’s a 10-hour day for them. They’ve got to be passionate about their work.”
Students who aren’t selected into CoSA are provided with viable options. “We might suggest they take a fifth period drama class or digital photography. And then they can re-apply the subsequent year.”
Digital arts, the last conservatory to be added to the program, has been around for 11 years but has seen the largest increase in students over the past three years. It includes four focus areas — animation, filmmaking, graphic design and game design, added last year.
“Technology changes quickly,” Schmeichel said. “We’re constantly working to stay on the innovation side of digital arts.
But, he cautions, interaction with technology does not mean jobs. “You must be able to interact using creativity to get jobs,” which is why much of the digital arts work at CoSA is done in teams.
“That is the standard work environment in any kind of marketing or broadcasting,” he said. “We want to reflect everything in the industry.”
In October, the district showcased its arts programming with a “Fall for the Arts” preview. To say the least, students now have multiple avenues to pursue their passions.