The second iteration of the Madison School District’s Summer Arts Academy is largely being integrated into its summer semester programming this year.
Unlike last year, when specific classes like acting, ballet, hip-hop dance and an art studio were open to all students to sign up, most of the focus this year is on students already enrolled in the district's summer semester or afternoon programming through Madison School & Community Recreation.
Artists will rotate between K-8 summer semester locations to give a couple days of lessons on an art form, rather than running an entire weekslong class focused on that genre. Afternoon MSCR programs will feature additional art lessons, and high school students will have new arts-focused class opportunities for credit.
“Hundreds and hundreds of more kids are going to have arts experiences this year than did last year,” MMSD Fine Arts Teacher Leader Randy Swiggum said. “Of course, we traded out the elective part where people can just sign up from the community but what we're hoping is that a lot more kids are going to get their first taste of street dance or the first taste of acrylic paint or their first taste of some really great spoken word artists.”
Students not involved in summer semester or MSCR programming will not have the opportunity to take district-run courses like they did in summer 2022.
Instead, students not enrolled in summer school can participate in some community-based arts programming, with the fee covered by the district.
Last year’s version of the Summer Arts Academy prompted good reviews from students, but the enrollment numbers were lower what the district had anticipated. So, too, was the diversity within that enrollment, as 50% of students enrolled in the arts program were white, well above the 12.8% of students enrolled in MSCR programming who were white, according to district data.
MMSD Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Cindy Green said the district also recognized that it tried to do too much last year.
“What we learned last summer was trying to have offerings (of) this huge umbrella of anything and everything was more than one that we were able to manage and manage well,” Green said. “And (it was) not always reaching the groups of students that we wanted to ensure were privileged and were prioritized with these opportunities.”
Both last summer and this summer, the programming was funded through federal COVID-19 relief. That money must be spent by fall 2024, meaning that to continue the program in future years, the district must find other funding sources within the budget.
Last year, the district allocated $1.3 million of funding toward the program, with more than 300 students enrolled. This year, the district will spend about $500,000 and reach more than 1,500 students.
While enrollment for summer semester is closed, the high school arts classes will be available to sign up for until the seats are filled.
The deadline for the community-based classes open to students not enrolled in summer semester is May 23. Those classes include a circus camp at Madison Circus Space (ages 6-11); The House, Inc- dance camp (ages 7 and older); Black Star Drum Line (ages 8-18) and Drum Power, a dance and drumming camp (ages 10 and above). There is also a beginning ballet class (ages 10-18) offered by Madison Ballet/Lussier Community Center; a choir camp (current grades 5-8) through Madison Youth Choirs and Madison College hosts technical theater (current grades 8-11).
Swiggum said the new program design will fit with the style of summer school, especially for younger students, which often means “trying things” rather than an in-depth curriculum.
“There's a lot of kids who won't sign up for (a full class) just because (they’re) like, ‘I don't know anything about ballet,’” Swiggum offered as an example. “We understand that you have to start somewhere, right?
"By embedding it into their summer school day, when they get two chances to try it with an artist," he said, the responses are more likely to be, "‘Oh, this is super fun, I never knew how much fun this was,’ (and) that's a start to an arts education.”
Swiggum is confident that it will plant a seed for many students, given the instructors the district has lined up.
“The artists that we have — Francis Medrano, AfroPeruvian dance, he is such a hit that kids are going to be like, ‘Wherever he goes, I want to go be doing what he's doing because he's amazing,’” Swiggum said. “And we have a whole bunch of people like that.”
Diversifying the instruction was of similar importance as diversifying the students involved, district officials said.
“Our own course opportunities have some real gaps when it comes to cultural aspects, when it comes to uplifting Black and brown art, when it comes to uplifting dance,” Green said. “We recognize that we have gaps, we know that we're on a path to making improvements, but in the interim, we need to solicit partnerships with organizations and/or artists that can help fill those gaps.”