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Beginning in the school year 2013-2014, The Capital Area School for the Arts will transition from being an arts magnet school into being a full charter school. Instead of offering only half-day sessions devoted to the arts, the school will now be offering a full academic curriculum and students will spend their entire day at CASA. Classroom space at the school location in Strawberry Square in Harrisburg will have to be expanded, and CASA has made arrangements to use facilities at Temple University, also located in Strawberry Square.
CASA was launched in 2001, with a partnership between Open Stage of Harrisburg and the Capital Intermediate Unit. The model was that of an arts magnet school. Students accepted into CASA from school districts throughout the area attended academic classes in their home district, but for more intense training in the arts, they spent half of each day at CASA. Tuition was covered by the participating school district.
With state budget cuts in education, however, fewer and fewer school districts have been willing to cover those tuition costs. CASA has been struggling in recent years to make up that shortfall. Finding scholarships to cover costs of students unable to meet the expense became a difficult and time-consuming process. The idea of accepting only those students whose parents could afford the tuition ran counter to the vision of the school.
By becoming a charter school, tuition for each student will now come directly to CASA from state education funds, not to the student’s home district.
In difficult financial times, this has caused some concern among struggling school districts. The Harrisburg school directors rejected CASA’s charter application at first. Just a few days later, however, the decision was reversed.
For students seriously interested in pursuing the arts, CASA offers opportunities not available in many schools. Students choose one of six disciplines on which to focus: theater, visual arts, dance, music, film and creative writing. But collaboration is a big part of the education. Creative writing students, for example, write stories for film student projects. Music students create pieces for the dancers. A student-produced presentation which involves all the different disciplines is performed at Whitaker Center as a collaborative project.
It may be that CASA’s transformation into a charter school will have an indirect benefit for arts education in the region. Some school districts, in order to keep their strongest arts students from leaving, have planned a more aggressive approach to their own arts education. But in many other districts, the arts programs are the areas being cut back the most as education dollars shrink. And for gifted arts students in some districts, CASA may prove the only course for them to pursue an education in the arts.
Below you can hear our feature with Casa principal Cheryl Giles-Rudawski.
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