The ad hoc graduation requirements committee at Riverside-Brookfield High School is recommending that no changes be made in the graduation requirements.
However the committee, which was made up of two school board members, four community members and school staff, is suggesting that the school make it easier for students to waive the fine arts survey class that is currently a graduation requirement.
“We’re recommending that nothing change, that it’s still a graduation requirement,” said District 208 school board member Laura Hruska, who along with board member John Keen served as co-chairs of the committee. “The administration should go back to the Leadership Council and propose a possible waiver for students who have multiple credits in the fine arts.”
Hruska said that having a waiver procedure in place would give students more flexibility in course selection.
However, Diane Marelli, the chairwoman of the school’s Fine Arts Department, said that she would be “very disappointed” if a waiver policy was established.
Fine arts survey is a one-semester class that has been taught for 18 years, Marelli said, and it gives students an overview of visual arts, drama, dance and music. Students study each discipline in four- or five-week rotations.
The focus of the class is on creating art. In the music portion of the class, they create an original short rhythmic composition. For dance, they choreograph a piece; for art, they create a piece of ceramic art; and in theater, they do an exercise to design a set or create costumes.
“They are able to experience the arts in quite a different way than in a regular appreciation course,” Marelli said. “It’s really a course where they learn to be creative. They get to think and act like an artist.”
Students must take the fine arts survey to graduate, but can test out of the requirement by scoring at 70 percent or above on a 100-question, multiple-choice test and by attending a professional fine arts performance and writing a paper about it.
Few students are able to pass the test.
Colin Hughes, a freshman, told the school board that he took multiple fine art classes in middle school and was involved in choir, orchestra and plays. At RBHS, he is in the choir and is taking a television class.
He told the board he thinks there should be maybe a fine arts requirement to graduate, but not a specific requirement to take the fine arts survey.
“I really do think that there has to be another option to get out of it,” Hughes said. “There should be ways that you can get out of it that don’t require you to go to summer school or take a test that is impossible to pass.”
However, Marelli says that even students with extensive experience in one or two areas of the arts benefit from the class.
“Just because a student has been in choir for four years, that doesn’t mean they know anything about art or dance and drama,” Marelli said. “I don’t think a waiver is really a fair thing, because they are missing out on the other arts, the other disciplines.”
Marelli also said the class is special because it brings together kids from all areas of the school.
“Kids from all different years take the course,” Marelli said. “Kids from all different sectors of the school. We have regular ed students mixed with special ed. We have a real collegial collaborative atmosphere.”
Miranda Molina, a sophomore, told the school board that the fine arts survey class helps to foster a respect for the arts and for students who are active in the arts.
“A lot of students who aren’t in the arts come to the school already with a low appreciation of the arts, and they look down upon people who are in the arts,” said Molina, a member of the school band. “But when you have students take fine arts survey, they can gain an appreciation for the arts.”
Two parents, Barb Molina and Jeanine Watylyk, told the school board that the class is invaluable and one of the things that make RBHS unique.
Watylyk said that she has seen how the class has helped build confidence in her shy freshman daughter.
Working together with other students and putting on a performance in front of your classmates has been nerve-wracking but beneficial to her daughter, she said.
“She would never take this class on her own,” Watylyk said. “I think that this kind of experience is something every student should be allowed to participate in. This can really be a life-changing experience for some.”
Marelli said the fine arts survey is very important to the fine arts faculty.
“We believe in this class,” Marelli said. “This is pretty much the capstone class of our department, because we’re all involved in it.”
But graduation requirements committee co-chairman John Keen said everything must be considered.
“We can’t have sacred cows here anymore,” Keen said. “We can’t afford them.”