Expanding Creativity

New Fine Arts Academy to Inspire Next Generation of Artists at HCISD

New Fine Arts Academy to Inspire Next Generation of Artists at HCISD

Matthew Garcia was in sixth grade when he picked up his viola in orchestra class for the first time, not realizing the massive impact music would have on his life. Within two weeks, he became first chair of his orchestra. In three months, he was first chair viola in the high school All-Region Orchestra; in a year, he was playing with the University of Texas at Brownsville (now, UTRGV) Symphony Orchestra; a year after that, he had played Carnegie Hall — three times.

This summer, Garcia was accepted into the National Youth Orchestra for the second year in a row. In this organization, he has rubbed elbows with some of the nation’s most highly academically and musically trained students.

“These are some of the most brilliant people I have ever met in my life. It’s just so amazing that I had the opportunity to sit next to these kids, getting to learn with them and live with them. They’ve been playing for 13, 14, 15 years — their entire lives,” he said. “As of right now, I’ve been playing the viola for six years, and because of my Harlingen fine arts education, I was able to stand with some of the best students in the country and be their equal.”

Garcia’s chance to learn music came in middle school, but what if he had had the chance to immerse himself in the arts at a much younger age? Elementary students attending Harlingen CISD now have the chance to do just that.

At the start of the 2018-19 school year, Harlingen CISD launched a new learning experience with a focus on the arts — the Fine Arts Academy at Lee Means Elementary.

“We believe that we must provide choices and opportunities for our families because students have different interests,” said Dr. Art Cavazos, HCISD superintendent. “We need to meet that interest where it is. The fine arts have allowed our students to compete among the very best in the nation. Imagine what they can do if they start in elementary. We’re going to stop imagining and make it happen.”

The new fine arts academy features a unique and vertically aligned curriculum developed with a focus on four different pathways — dance, music, visual arts, and theater. Students receive daily exposure to the fine arts through their subject matter.

To ensure a responsible rollout and to best meet the needs of the Lee Means community, the transformation into a full-fledged Fine Arts Academy will be a four-year process.

“Every year we are going to add a new dimension to what the Fine Arts Academy is going to offer,” said Veronica Kortan, administrator for organizational development. “We believe that when we are going to roll out any innovations, we have to prepare our system and make sure that we are going to be responsible in what we are implementing. At the end of the day, it’s about making sure all of our students are getting their needs met.”

Fine Arts Curriculum 

While still emphasizing the academic core and strong character values, Lee Means Elementary Fine Arts Academy is inspiring a culture of creativity that extends beyond traditional learning.

In pre-K through second grade, students are introduced to thematic lessons in all four strands — dance, music, visual arts, and theater. These grade levels will participate in one production for the year. In grades three through five, students gain exposure to the four strands through the redesign of the school day.

Additionally, Fine Arts Academy learners have access to after-school enrichment opportunities free of charge on designated days.

“All of our students have enrichment opportunities,” Kortan said. “So for about an hour-and-a-half after school, we’ll bring in one of our community partners and have an enrichment class that could be, for example, a piano lesson or a dance lesson. This allows our students that are passionate about a particular strand to nurture that passion and continue to develop those skills.”

The Dual Language Academy at Lee Means, which is now in its seventh year, will continue to be a part of the campus programming.

For more information on the campus, visit www.hcisd.org/finearts.