When Sophia del Rio walked into arcades growing up, boys wouldn’t let her play games. That won’t be the case in her classroom.
The digital media arts teacher at the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts will make sure everyone in her class has access to create and engage in digital art. The campus will open its doors for the first time on Aug. 14.
“Access to video games and computers, I didn’t have it,” del Rio said. “So, when I would go to arcades, it was a bunch of boys who didn’t let me play. I think that has been a rights issue for people of color and women.”
Superintendent Stephanie Love said she had the idea for the school a decade ago.
“We started this journey 10 years ago with the thought that perhaps we can do it a little bit differently,” Love said at the school’s ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 8. “Perhaps we can open up equity and access to the arts for our kids. Perhaps we can work together as a school and a community, and we can design something that’s really meaningful for the kids in our community.”
The Academy of Visual and Performing Arts is a charter school that will open its doors to 188 students at La Gran Plaza with an arts-focused and trauma-informed curriculum. The campus will eventually move to the former Victory Arts Center building in the Hemphill neighborhood.
Have questions about enrollment?
How many seats are left?
Superintendent Stephanie Love said the school can serve 320 sixth and seventh graders. There are still about 130 seats open.
How much is enrollment?
The cost to attend the public charter school is free.
Is there transportation?
Yes, the school has four bus routes and pickups at Fort Worth Montessori Academy and Rocketship schools for parents who have children at either campus and the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.
How much are meals?
Students do not have to pay for meals.
Math and art
Superintendent Stephanie Love previously discussed with the Report how the campus will put art into every subject. She said students will complete projects in class and integrate creativity into core classes.
Love used an example of visual arts and math. An artist needs to understand scaling, area, dimension and perimeter, she said. The campus also would offer dance, digital media, vocal and instrumental music and theater.
Love grew up in the 76104 ZIP code — which in a 2019 study had the lowest life expectancy in the state. She wanted to bring another education option to south Fort Worth, she said.
The curriculum uses the arts in every class, Love said. Additionally, every Wednesday, local artists will come to work with the students.
Love previously told the Report the school also will use trauma-informed practices. The goal is to teach students how to understand their emotions and cope, Love said. Adults who have been in therapy learn how to manage emotions and find ways to cope, but those skills often are not taught to children. The school will work to teach students those coping mechanisms.
Board member Sergio Gonzalez is especially excited to see the art curriculum in the school.
“I believe in arts, I believe in education, and I think that this is the stepping stone to be able to provide that with our community members, for our community as a whole,” Gonzalez said. “I hope to see more schools adopt the same idea so that we can have more integrated arts in our communities.”
Conservatory Director Shayna Ferraro oversees all of the fine arts programming for the campus. The school will offer literary arts and digital media on top of other more traditional art subjects.
“We are removing all those barriers that normally stand in the way of arts education,” she said. “As other local schools are pulling arts programming out, we are pushing it.”
Arts education helps students find new ways to communicate emotions, have a healthy outlet for their feelings, and communicate with each other, Ferraro said.
Bringing joy into the school — and back to Love’s home
Love is nervous about the first day of school. Her perfectionist nature can’t help it, but she believes in the staff she’s assembled.
One assistant principal’s job will focus entirely on the culture of the school, Love said. The goal is to ensure students are involved in activities and clubs they enjoy, find leadership roles and are happy in the school.
The campus also employs a licensed social worker in addition to a counselor, she said. All of those roles are intended to help students gain emotional intelligence.
Love grew up in the foster care system and attended many different schools as she went from family to family. The school she’s creating is the kind she said she needed.
“It feels like a big responsibility because, again, these are kids who are already experiencing things — this area has the highest teen shootings in the city,” she said. “Kids are experiencing poverty. They’re experiencing the highest health disparities in the state. We’ll bring care and love and not add to it.”
A different kind of classroom
When del Rio saw the opportunity to teach digital art with programming and code, she saw it as a way to open the floodgates for students to dive into something they would not have had access to otherwise.
A rigid curriculum for visual and digital media arts doesn’t exist at a state level, del Rio said, but that makes teaching at the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts exciting to her.
Visual arts teacher Cari Hinds finished decorating her classroom for the first day of school on Aug. 8. On one cabinet, a melted clock drooped toward the countertop. In another corner, squiggly purple LED lights illuminated her desk.
Hinds is most excited to teach students how to express themselves through the art they’ll create in her classroom. At one point, she said, she hopes the students open up an Esty shop, an e-commerce company focused on handmade and craft supplies.
“I’m excited to see the skill-building process,” Hinds said. “This provides an alternative way of understanding material and learning.”
In school, Hinds couldn’t understand some things unless she sketched it as teachers talked — she doesn’t like bullet point notes. She wants students to be able to learn different ways of processing information and the school gives her the opportunity to do that.
Robert Long, the exhibitions manager at Arts Fort Worth, shared a similar experience as Hinds. He couldn’t learn unless it was visually, so the school gives him hope for the future of the Fort Worth art community.
In Long’s eyes, everything can be seen from a creative perspective.
“I’ve seen people in the sciences, medical, literature, literary, theater and all that who didn’t view themselves as creative,” Long said. “And I think whatever you’re doing career-wise – a lawyer, doctor or biologist – look at it creatively, it’s going to advance what you’re doing.”
He, del Rio and Hinds believe the arts school will help in teaching to think creatively.
When the doors of the school open, del Rio said, they are going to do something that isn’t being done in any Texas school.
“We are expecting a group of kids that is behind in their social-emotional skills because they’ve been isolated for the majority of their developmental age due to COVID,” del Rio said. “I’m really excited. I think it’s a new model for schools that will create better global citizens and more capable, self-empowered individuals.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com.
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