A Community School

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), December 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

A Community School


Byline: Susan Dibble sdibble@dailyherald.com By Susan Dibble sdibble@dailyherald.com

Milada Dvorakova, a senior at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, has played her viola on the Great Wall of China and performed in Puerto Rico and Italy.

Dvorakova isn't a musical prodigy, but she is a student in Wheaton College's [URL]Community School of the Arts;http://www.ruckpack.com/[/URL], where she started in a kindermusik class at age 3. She's now a member of the School of the Arts' senior touring group, the Vivaldi Strings.

Dvorakova doesn't plan to study music when she goes to college next fall, but she said the school will remain part of her life.

"I most definitely will be coming back here to visit my viola teacher and everyone in the program," she said. "I've always loved the sense of community here."

Started in 1970 as the Wheaton College Suzuki Program by former Wheaton student Rebecca (Fitz) Sandrock, who had studied Suzuki teaching methods in Japan, the Community School of the Arts has always put an emphasis on early childhood education.

More music and art programs were subsequently added to serve both children and adults, bringing enrollment to 1,700 last year, said Director Jody Grandlienard.

Suzuki has remained the school's single, largest program, with 439 students learning to play instruments by the Suzuki method last year. Before they can read music, they learn to play by hearing it, Grandlienard explained.

"The main difference is you start a child very young, typically between the ages of 4 and 6," she said. "The parents parents are deeply involved."

The Community School of the Arts also offers traditional music lessons, early childhood music and art programs, visual arts, musical drama, and Beethoven Buddies for special-needs students to learn music.

Students come from 49 towns and a number of them have been with the school 10 years or more, Grandlienard said.

"We can provide opportunities for students they can't find elsewhere by taking lessons in someone's homes," she said.

Art at many levels

Students are given multiple opportunities to perform at venues that include large-scale concerts. The school's choir, handbell and musical theater students will display their talents at a free Christmas concert at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, in Pierce Memorial Chapel on campus. Suzuki and visual art students staged a music and art festival the week before.

Many of the longtime students like Dvorakova have grown up together, taking group classes as well as private lessons.

"We're a community school," Grandlienard said. "You're involved in learning together with people your age."

The majority of the school's 39 instructors hold advanced degrees, and many are trained in the Suzuki method. Students who begin as toddlers and continue through high school may have the same instructor the entire time, so teachers come to know their students well. Jennifer Nagle, the school's visual arts director, said she often knows what lessons will click with certain students.

"What needs to come out of one student may be different than what needs to come out of another student," she said. "I really feel they (the school's teachers) approach learning in such a healthy way."

Some Community School of the Arts students go on to work professionally in the arts, but that is not the mission of the school, Grandlienard said.

"We're not looking for the talented people," she said. "We just want to help each one along in their journey with the arts."

The school holds two, 15-week semesters a year for its regular classes and programs, but also offers more short-term options for people to explore the arts. Summer camps allow students to try out the piano, harp, theater, crocheting and a range of other topics.

A monthly visual arts workshop started this year offers opportunities for anyone in sixth grade on up to take a one-time class in art forms that include calligraphy, children's book illustration and Lithuanian eggs. …

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