Bryan Station High School has a Fine Arts Academy that encourages students to explore their curiosity about music, dance or visual arts. Not all of the students decide to stick with it, but those who complete the academy's coursework are prepared for college auditions and careers.
Hearing that made me want to check it out.
What struck me as I walked through classrooms where the various disciplines were being taught was how quiet and focused the students were.
In the piano lab, where dozens of keyboards are connected to a command station directed by instructor Kristine Lyon, students don headphones and manipulate the keys, but no sound is heard in the room.
Instead, Lyon listens and instructs students individually or as a group, correcting and encouraging.
"I can talk quietly with students and correct them, and no one else knows," she said. "In an open classroom, the student won't say, 'I don't get it.' Instead, you may have a discipline problem because it is cooler to be a discipline problem than to admit you don't get it."
Unlike at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, there is no selection process for students. Any student at Bryan Station is welcome to test the waters with basic courses.
"SCAPA is selective," said Marquetta Hensley, the academy's director and chair of the world language and fine arts departments at Bryan Station. "We are not. We are taking the kids who are interested. We are discovering and they are discovering."
What teachers in the academy are discovering is a lot of hidden talent. One student in the piano lab who arrived at the school a month ago barely speaking English has advanced halfway through the first semester's coursework.
"He has just blossomed," Lyon said, adding he can now join the group on the keyboards. "He is not on his own anymore. Today is his first day sitting with the class."
While listening to another of her students over the system last year, Lyon said she noticed his volume was extremely high. She urged his parents to have his hearing tested, and they learned he is nearly deaf. The disability had gone undetected during his 12 years of schooling.
"She is like the best teacher," Tyler Vinegar, 16, said of Lyon. "She wants you to do good, so she pushes you."
In Ballet 1, students of all sizes and skills danced onstage in the school auditorium in near-unison.
"A vast majority has never had any kind of formal ballet training," said instructor Melissa Quinn, who also teaches history. "They come because they are interested in it.
"My (history) students are not really interested in history, but here, they will stop me and say, 'Can we do that again?' They will say, 'Can you tell me more or can I meet with you to learn more?'"
Students must perform in a recital with the Ballet 2 class at the end of each semester for their final exam grade, Quinn said.
Princess Jackson, 17, one of the students onstage the day I visited, said her interest is in hip-hop dancing.
"I wanted to try ballet to learn various styles to make me better," she said.
The academy has 120 students and Hensley hopes it will grow.
"We are trying to open people's eyes and show people what the kids can do."
Some of the students in the visual art department — which includes drawing, painting, sculpting, jewelry-making, photography and graphic design — have works on display at The Kentucky Theatre through March 29. For nearly four years, artwork from the program has adorned the stairwell at Central Baptist Hospital to give staff something to look.
Don Hicks began as an assistant band director in the academy five years ago and now teaches guitar. As far as he knows, he's the only full-time guitar teacher in a Kentucky school.
Hicks started with 16 students and for a time had 128, more students than were in the band and orchestra. Instead of taking away from band and orchestra, guitar has proven to increase the number of students with access to an instrument.
"Six percent wouldn't have had an instrument any other way," he said. "We've added 6 percent of the general population who are now taking music."
An ensemble of 43 students will perform but not be evaluated at the Kentucky Music Educators Association orchestra assessment Thursday at the Singletary Center, he said. The group will be the first guitar ensemble to do so, and KMEA is working to find a spot for them in future assessments and competitions, Hicks added.
The dedication of the teachers and the focus of the students I saw throughout the academy are getting great results. Hensley wants more. She hopes to find volunteers who can tutor students individually and improve their skill levels even more.
She also would like businesses to allow seniors to intern in various careers, including graphic arts. And she would love to have a dedicated parent or community volunteer who would get the word out about the academy.
"We want people to see what our kids are doing and what they are capable of," Hensley said.
If you would like to volunteer at or donate to the academy, let Hensley know by emailing her at email@example.com.