Bangor High School may add fine arts program to mesh with city’s expanding art industry

Posted Jan. 07, 2014, at 5:50 p.m.
Bangor Schools Superintendent Betsy Webb
Bangor Schools Superintendent Betsy Webb Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — Buoyed by the success of an intense, accelerated program that allows students to dig deeper into science, technology, engineering and math, Bangor High School may introduce a version focused on the arts, according to the city’s superintendent of schools.

Superintendent Betsy Webb expects to lay out the plan for a Fine Arts Academy to the Bangor school committee at the panel’s regular meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the third floor of City Hall. The committee is expected to vote on whether to move forward with the program.

The academy will allow students to dive into “deep exploration of the arts” in one of three categories, according to a written description of the program. The proposed academy is based heavily on the model of Bangor High School’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Academy, which was launched in 2012. The high school is poised to graduate its first group of 14 STEM Academy graduates in 2015. In all, there are 45 students participating in that program.

The academies are designed to give students the core classes they need while allowing them time and resources to immerse themselves in particular fields that might interest them. In STEM Academy’s case, the goal was to prepare students for college degree pursuits in STEM fields and, ultimately, STEM careers.

“All indications are that we’ve been successful in that,” Webb said Tuesday, referring to the number of students who have participated in the STEM program.

Fine Arts Academy students would focus on one of three main pathways of visual art: digital and commercial, two-dimensional and three-dimensional. A focus on performing arts could be added later, Webb said.

In addition to regular schoolwork, students would spend 6-10 hours per week over a 6-8 week span on a summer internship, apprenticeship or high-level course to enhance what they’ve learned during the school year. The academy would last through all four years of high school, but if a student wanted to get involved in their sophomore year, the academy could be condensed into three years, according to Webb.

The idea is to get students engaged in “what they want to go deeper on, further on, what they want to know more about,” she said.

In the STEM Academy, students worked on projects during their summer internships including developing low cost water sanitation solutions for people in developing countries and studying the effect of external heterogeneity in the environment on population dynamics and the spread of infectious disease.

Webb said university professors overseeing some of these projects said they were “on the level of graduate student work.”

Bangor High School wants to follow up STEM Academy with an arts counterpart in part because of Bangor’s growing arts and cultural offerings, ranging from the American Folk Festival and Waterfront Concerts to a growing number of local artisans. Those present opportunities for collaboration, real-life experience and internships, Webb said.

There will be no additional costs to the school district in launching the arts academy, as it will be using current teachers and resources, according to the superintendent. The school may seek donations that would be used to pay stipends to the students in order to encourage them to get involved in an internship rather than taking on extra summer jobs.

If the plan gets the go-ahead from the school committee on Wednesday, school officials will begin planning and laying groundwork for the new academy.

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