QUAKERTOWN, Pa. (AP) — In middle school and for the first two years of high school, Julia Mayer took a dance class daily.
When she attended first the Arts Academy Charter Middle School in Salisbury Township and then the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts in Bethlehem, dance was part of her curriculum. In 11th grade, she switched to Quakertown Community High School because it was closer to her home and she thought the academics were stronger. But she missed dancing daily for class.
Now, Julia, 17, can take dance every day at Quakertown, and wants to major in dance in college. “It’s really exciting,” Julia said.
The district this year opened a $370,374 dance studio at the high school after Superintendent Bill Harner asked for one to boost the arts program at the high school.
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Harner sees it as money well spent if it keeps student dancers from opting for the arts charter school in Bethlehem. Quakertown’s new studio also includes a “black box” theater, a bare-bones performance space, for theater students to use.
When public school students leave for charter schools, their home districts must pay tuition dollars to the charter schools. Quakertown pays about $2 million a year in charter tuition, with more than $280,000 going to the charter arts high school this school year.
The dance studio did cause some uproar among community members, and Harner acknowledged that. Parents and taxpayers voiced frustration at school board meetings earlier this year over the district spending on new studio even as it closed Milford Middle School.
But in the age of competition with charter schools, Harner sees the dance studio as worth it.
“We’ve already brought back enough students and kept enough students from leaving for charter schools that it already paid for itself,” Harner said, noting that he loves competition.
This year, 17 students from Quakertown are attending the charter arts high school. CEO Diane LaBelle noted that charter schools were founded as a way to look at education differently and create innovative programs.
LaBelle applauds the Bucks County district for upping its game in the arts.
“I always support any school that chooses to increase or add arts programs,” she said. “If our school was an influence on that, then I’m really proud of that.”
In opening the studio, the district hired Sarah Hirsch to teach the dance classes. Last Thursday morning, Hirsch taught five students during a 45-minute class, focusing on modern and jazz dance.
“Five, six, seven, eight,” Hirsch called out to the students, including Julia, as they glided in front of her to Ingrid Michaelson’s “Be OK.” ”Fall, fall.”
The five girls, clad in black leotards, gracefully fell to the floor, stretching their legs in front of a mirror that spans an entire wall.
Senior Morgan Smith, a member of Quakertown’s dance team, says the class gives her time to work out during a busy day.
Hirsch previously taught at the charter arts middle school for five years and said the dance programs at both schools are similar.
All together, there are about 35 students taking dance this semester as an elective at Quakertown, Hirsch said. The district expects more students to take the class as the program continues.
“It’s a great opportunity,” she said. “These are experiences that most kids don’t have in a public school. This is really unique.”
Information from: The Morning Call, http://www.mcall.com