HS Arts: Program of Distinction

High School First to be Awarded Program of Distinction in Visual Arts
Middle States Association Validates Success of Program

IMG 0422For decades Fox Chapel Area School District has been known K-12 for its top-notch visual arts program. Earlier this spring, Fox Chapel Area High School received validation of this success by receiving the Program of Distinction in the Visual Arts by the Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools (MSA-CESS). This award is especially significant as Fox Chapel Area High School is the first school – nationally and internationally – to receive this honor.

In order to receive the Programs of Distinction status, the visual arts department underwent an intensive self-study that examined the department's vision, climate and organization, curriculum, instruction, and assessment of student learning. As a part of this process, students and faculty were also surveyed to gather information on the success of the programs and to determine areas to improve. After compiling the extensive report, the department hosted Jane Pruitt, Ed.D., associate director of MSA-CESS, an external evaluator who came to observe classes, examine the quality of student work, and determine the scope and level of excellence in the department.

Following that successful visit and Dr. Pruitt's recommendation, Fox Chapel Area High School's application was reviewed two additional times prior to a final vote by the MSA-CESS Executive Committee.

In a statement of congratulations, Henry G. Cram, Ed.D., president of MSA-CESS commented, "Our Programs of Distinction award recognizes high-achieving schools for their ongoing accomplishments in specific areas. These programs are models for other academic programs throughout the world."

"At Fox Chapel Area High School we are committed to promoting the visual arts and fostering an environment where creativity and imagination are encouraged," said Senior/Lead Principal Michael Hower. "The Middle States Programs of Distinction award validates the work of our teachers, staff, and community in ensuring the arts remain a valued and appreciated part of our overall curriculum."

According to computer art teacher and high school art department chair Christine Smith, "The art department was thrilled to receive this honor and to be the first school ever named as a Program of Distinction in the Visual Arts. It highlights and validates the amazing work our students do every day."

In order to meet the needs of a wide range of students with varying interests and talents, the high school offers four levels of computer art, ceramics and fibers, drawing and painting, jewelry and glass, and photography. Advanced Placement (AP) Studio Art and portfolio class are also offered, as well as art history. Additionally, the high school also has an art club, cartoon club, jewelry club, National Art Honor Society, photography club, and pottery club. During the 2013-2014 school year, when the report was prepared, 32 percent of ninth graders were enrolled in a visual arts course, 47 percent of 10th graders, 33 percent of 11th graders, and 22 percent of 12th graders.

The strengths highlighted in the self-study of the high school visual arts department include:

•Courses: The high school has continued to introduce courses and stay current with technology and a variety of art medium. To meet student needs, the high school offers flexible class options including both five-day-a-week and three-day-a-week classes. By offering multiple levels of classes and with the longer class structure of the school's block schedule, students can opt to take more advanced art and create more sophisticated artwork.

•Cross-Curricular Involvement: Among other cross-curricular opportunities, the high school presents the Grand Salon/Major Works Concert that includes the music, visual arts, language arts, world languages, and history departments.

•Enrichment Opportunities: Students from diverse backgrounds have opportunities to grow through a rigorous curriculum, external apprenticeships, and job shadowing, as well as opportunities to showcase their work both internally at the high school and externally in the community, including student participation in art competitions and art shows such as The Scholastic Art Awards.

The high school visual arts department will continue to enhance opportunities and programs for students including: expanding the AP Studio Art course and streamlining the portfolio course, adding an AP Art History course to be piloted during the 2015-2016 school year, expanding student critiques, infusing more historical and cultural content, and continuing to focus on instructional best practices.

The Programs of Distinction review process helps already MSA-CESS-accredited schools identify strengths and areas for growth through its Programs of Distinction recognitions. Fox Chapel Area High School received exemplary program status in the areas of music and school counseling in 2012 by following the same intensive self-studies and outside evaluations. The high school is one of only two MSA members to have achieved recognition in three different areas.

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