New high school arts programs launched

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Creative and performing arts is one of the most popular special programs within city public high schools. And despite signs that it may be difficult to recruit enough qualified teachers, there are plans for expansion.

Lumped together in the School District’s guide to high schools as “creative and performing arts programs” are three distinct levels: competitive admission schools that require auditions, self-contained arts academies within neighborhood schools, and schools that offer a series of electives beyond introductory courses. In the self-contained academies, students are likely to take many of their academic courses together and have a better chance of getting arts into their rosters.

Program offerings do vary widely. For instance, at Germantown High School, which is designated as having an arts program, there is no vocal music teacher.

Dennis Creedon, the District’s administrator of creative and performing arts, said that there are no written standards for these arts programs, but added that schools must offer a range of visual arts – drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, and crafts – as well as music, drama, and different kinds of dance. This year, he said, University City and William Penn lost their designations because their courses had deteriorated. There is also a growing media arts program for web design and filmmaking in the District, he said.

The gold standard is the audition schools, which now include the High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) and Girard Academic Music Program. GAMP starts in fifth grade, is for students who want to perform or teach music, and does not have visual arts. CAPA admits students in six fields or “majors”: creative writing, dance, drama, instrumental music, vocal music, and visual arts.

The District is planning two new CAPA high schools in different parts of the city. One, carved out of Kensington High School, opened last fall and is awaiting a new building. The other will open in September 2007 as an audition school in the renovated Rush Middle School in the Northeast. There is also discussion of creating a CAPA high school in South or West Philadelphia.

For middle and high school students whose neighborhoods don’t have arts programs – and for students attending new small high schools that can’t offer art or music – Creedon said the District will open regional Saturday arts programs next year. It is also looking at ways small high schools can share art and music teachers.

The District has also written a high school theater curriculum for the first time, but may have trouble hiring teachers because the state now requires theater teachers to be certified in communications as well as English. And dance teachers must now be certified in vocational education; until now, dance was offered through the physical education department. Several dance teacher prospects dropped out after hearing the requirements, he said.

The other city high schools that have arts programs are Fels, Frankford, Franklin Learning Center, Girls, Germantown, Gratz, Lincoln, Northeast, Olney, Overbrook, Strawberry Mansion, Washington and West Philadelphia.