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Staging a comeback: Alberta School of Performing Arts

21 Apr 2015


By Cokie Thompson

The storms that blew through Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011, had come and gone in a matter of hours, but residents have spent the years since trying to get back to normal. On January 6, the students, faculty and staff of Alberta Elementary School began a new routine on their old stomping ground--now The Alberta School of Performing Arts.

 

Principal Brenda Parker is excited to be back in Alberta.

 

“We looked at video clips later, and everyone--every teacher, every child--talked about a homecoming,” Parker said.

 

Since 2011, the school has been operating out of an empty wing of Tuscaloosa Magnet School. Beyond standard classrooms, the new building features spaces dedicated to the school’s purpose of integrating the arts into the learning process.

 

“I think everyone appreciates the history of where we were before, who we were before, and now we’re bringing that culture to a new school with new offerings,” Parker said.

 

Parker said classroom and arts teachers will work together to combine courses like science and social studies with arts offerings like visual art, dance, drama, and music. Over the summer, both arts and classroom teachers will go through various professional development workshops to help them integrate the arts into the curriculum.

Children run and play in a courtyard during physical education.

 

“There’s not one specific model because what we’ve found is every school had to craft their curriculum to their own culture,” Parker said. “We’ve certainly been inspired by schools that we’ve visited.”

 

Christine Ballenger, a music teacher at the school, said her students show an innate sense of creativity. She originally wanted to teach middle school band, but she said she’s fallen love with elementary music.

 

“Just seeing how much learning takes place even in kindergarten, I realized this is a place to nurture young minds and show them that music is not necessarily a talent,” Ballenger said. “It’s not only for the talented, it’s for everyone.”

 

Fifth graders Da’monica Stanton, Kennadi Burton, and Davie Davis were in first grade when the 2011 storm destroyed Alberta Elementary. After spending the years since in a building that didn’t belong to them, they were happy to be back.

 

“I feel glad to have our own place to call home,” Stanton said.

 

A central hallway in the Alberta School of Performing Arts functions as a tornado shelter, complete with storm shutters for the windows. The hallway and adjacent classrooms are large enough to shelter every student and faculty member at the school.

 All three said they were excited to be in a place dedicated to the arts. Burton, who plans to concentrate on dance when she enters middle school in the fall, said the school is special for reasons other than the curriculum.

 

“My teachers actually help me with things that I like to do,” Burton said. “They inspire me to keep my grades up.”

 

Davis said he is most excited about visual arts classes. In art classes this year, he has drawn houses and made maps of them. He said he would like to live in the house he drew on the front of his folder. A concentration in visual art in middle school would help him further develop those skills.

Photos: Christopher Chase Edmunds

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