Every winter we are given a chance to articulate ourselves. As an options school, ACMA is a place without a single geographic attendance area. Other “neighborhood schools” have set boundaries and draw from homes nearby; our little art school sees students from all corners of our district gather at our campus to create art and create community. As a part of the process of telling potential students and families about Arts & Communication Magnet Academy, we host “School Information Nights” in December, and it’s here that we get to share a window into our ACMA world.
With a student body made up of wildly creative sixth through twelfth graders, who come from all over the area, and who believe in the magically transformative power of art, I like to believe that we’re a little like Hogwarts.
It’s a line I like to use in our Info Nights, when I’m trying to help parents and prospective students understand that we’re more than just a middle and high school pushed together; we’re a seven year academic and artistic adventure, I tell them, and you wouldn’t stop reading Harry Potter after The Prisoner of Azkaban.
Folks usually indulge me with a chuckle.
Those Information Nights begin with student musicians on stage, see me talk with the crowd for a spell, share some pictures of what we do, and end with more kids on stage to answer questions as only students can. We aim for a fun night, filled with music, images, and honesty, and hope to leave our audience satisfied and applauding.
At ACMA we do like applause.
But the night is more than just a chance for entertainment. At its best, Info Night is an opportunity for us to reflect on who we are and who we aspire to be, and think about what steps we are taking to be the community we say we are. It’s a chance for me as the principal, as well as the many students who join me to answer questions from the audience, to put into words the reality we live every day.
At a school as special as ours, and overwhelmingly those of us who call ACMA home do see it as very, very special, it could be easy to slip into complacency, to take ACMA for granted. Preparing for Info Night is a great opportunity to pause long enough to recognize that what we have, and what we continue to create, is unique.
Along the way, I do my best to help my audience see past the beauty and power of our performances and the art they may have seen displayed. I do my best to celebrate the rehearsals and practices, the editing and revisions, the rough drafts and the hard work that goes into making a final product. That process of making art is as much a part of who we are as any polished work.
Knowing that not everyone can come to one of our Info Nights (we live in a busy world, I get it), I try each year to bottle some of the magic in a video we can share. Even knowing it’s not up to the task of telling everything about our school, and recognizing that it can’t include the amazing honesty and openness of the students who sit on the lip of the stage and answer audience questions, it’s another way to help focus our thoughts about our school.
That focus, and the many purposeful decisions that focus prompts us to make as we create our community, help to keep our school the special place it is. Certainly we continue to evolve, adding courses like animation and expanding the scope of what we do as we embrace the technological side of the arts, but at our creative heart we are more similar to the original vision of the school than we are different.
We articulate that in a statement I project at Info Night:
Arts & Communication Magnet Academy’s innovative educational community engages all students and staff in achieving academic and artistic excellence. We ignite the human need to create and question by honoring both the unique characteristics and the interdependence of all disciplines of study, while weaving a rich collaborative tapestry of experience.”
As I tell the crowd: we recognize that a phrase like “weaving a rich collaborative tapestry of experience” might sound corny to some, but we believe it. As a school we’re willing to put aside a few folks thinking we’re quirky (we are) or a little cornball (we are) or too artsy by half (we think we’re just artsy enough, and that our sequins look fabulous). We also know that by working together, supporting one another, and honoring the process and power of art, we can create an atmosphere that is magical.
Pausing every fall to prepare for our winter sharing helps us recognize and embrace that vision for ACMA. Thinking about who we are, as well as the actions we take every day to support that vision, is a healthy exercise for our school, and any school, and one we embrace.
It’s also why by December I should be able to tell you the hundred ways we’re like Hogwarts.