When Marshall ISD Superintendent Rochelle Langley first applied for the position, she mentioned the idea of transforming Price T. Young Elementary School into a fine arts academy, a trend that suited the longstanding history of successful fine arts in Marshall ISD.
In 2023, the school will be wrapping up its first year as one of only two fine arts academies in the East Texas area.
Langley is a Marshall native, and was well versed with the district’s record of excellence in the fine arts before stepping into the superintendent position. She stated that Price T. Young, of which 90 percent of its student population is considered low economic status, has historically been an underserved school in the area — and one that she hoped to bring new life to with the program.
“We didn’t want to just slap the name fine arts academy on it either,” said Bethany Venable, the school’s instructional coordinator for fine art and physical education. “We wanted the art to be fully integrated into the education of our student.”
The district officially made the switch in August 2022 and will be wrapping up the first year of its new program at the school in May.
The school offers its kindergarten through fifth grade students exposure to a wide variety of fine arts and class options to choose from, with all of its kindergarten through third grade students receiving instruction in music, theater and visual arts along with the traditional core classroom subjects.
When students reach fourth and fifth grade, they get to chose their own fine arts elective, including choir, strings, theater and more, as well as have the option to take either dance or PE as their physical education credit.
Not only does the school offer these additional courses though, but according to Principal Blake Langley, the school focuses on integrating the arts into all of its subjects, to engage students and inspire a passion for learning.
Venable said that many of the different subject teachers work together to integrate not only arts into their core classroom teachings, but work together to integrate the core subjects into all areas of the school day and combine lessons in different classes.
This, she said, allows students to understand a subject as a fully formed idea, rather than segmenting subjects between class periods.
“We don’t want to just teach our students how to know things, we want them to be good at learning, and to be able to think for themselves by the time they move onto junior high,” Venable said.
One example of how the fine arts academy works comes with the school’s second-graders, who are taught how to sight-read rhythms as part of their music courses. When those students are then exposed to the math concept of fractions, teachers utilize the student’s knowledge of sight reading to make fraction easier to understand, since students are already familiar with the concept in a different way.
“They can do fractions so much easier, because they were already doing them and they didn’t even realize that they were, that’s the true beauty of it,” Venable said.
Superintendent Langley said that research shows a clear link between students who are exposed to the fine arts at an early age and higher success rates in high school and in higher education.
So far, test results show similar progress for the school, which has not only received high rankings through the state, but according to Principal Langley, has shown a boost not only in student performance, but overall campus moral as well.
“The students are truly amazing, they really take a lot of pride in their school,” he said, “And for students who have never been exposed to what it means to be a good audience member, they are always polite, respectful and well behaved.”
Not only have students shown increased interest in the work they do, but Principal Langley said teachers have done the same, with both the theater and choir teachers coming together to create a new musical theater course to be offered at the school next year.
“We are just so thrilled at how the first year has gone so far, and we still have so much before the year is over,” Principal Langley said, “I can’t imagine what the future holds for us at Price T. Young.”