Taylor finds alternative paths to graduation

Written on 05/20/2024
Patrick Munsey

School to unveil Titan Academy of the Arts on May 21

This article is brought to you by Freedom Financial.

This week, Taylor School Corp. will unveil its new Titan Academy of the Arts, a building which will house its growing fine arts and music programs. With more than one third of the student body involved in these educational pathways, the facility positions Taylor as a leader in arts education.

The academy, which occupies the former Taylor Middle School building will open its doors to the community on Tue., May 21, from 6-7:30 p.m. Visitors will be able to tour the new fine arts rooms dedicated to ceramics, glass work, painting, and so many other arts, as well as the band and choral facilities.

With the facility, Taylor is making a statement, according to Superintendent Steve Dishon.

“The reason we're doing it is we differ from some schools in that the arts are our strongest programs,” said Dishon. “We offer more in the arts than any school, including Kokomo.”

Becoming a leading school in the arts wasn’t an intentional effort at first, Dishon explained. Like many successful schools, the programs grew thanks to the passion and skill of the instructors.

“It happened naturally,” said Dishon. “We all know the most important piece in education is the teacher. Kids will gravitate to something because they have a teacher who loves what they do. They're enthusiastic. They make connections.

“So, we have a band director and arts teachers that our kids gravitate to, and now we do very well in competitions. About a third of the school is in band. And we have won state titles in Academic Super Bowl Fine Arts.”

Even without the new building, Taylor’s music program has excelled. Dishon boasted that the school recently was awarded its fourth consecutive All-Music Award from the Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA).

“Only nine percent of schools in the state get that award,” said Dishon. “We've got it four straight years. That’s another banner going into the gym.”

The Titan Academy building formerly served as Taylor Intermediate School. That concept was dissolved, and the fourth and fifth grades were returned to the primary school building. The school’s transportation department also once called the building home. It, too, has been relocated to accommodate expanded offerings in the arts.

The added space means more time for learning and creating, Dishon explained.

“We used to teach everything in two rooms; one that was for painting, drawing, and jewelry,” said Dishon. “So, you'd have to break everything out and stop early to put everything away. And we had a ceramics room.

“Now we have a space for our ceramics and 3D art. We have a space for painting, for drawing. We have a classroom for jewelry, and a classroom for glass working.”

The music departments similarly have greater space in which to work. Rather than having a single, large practice room for the band, there are multiple, smaller rooms for different band elements, such as the jazz band or the concert band. And there are plenty of practice rooms.

The focus on the arts and the subsequent success Taylor has enjoyed is certainly an exception to the rule. For decades, public funding has been siphoned away from arts education, despite evidence showing its importance.

“If you follow politics, you know the first thing to get cut is always the arts,” said Dishon. “But that's the most important thing in schools. People don't realize it, but the kids who are good in the arts do very well on standardized tests. They graduate. They go to college.

“People who push back against arts in education are crazy. Learning facts has become pointless because you just Google it anytime you ever need to know anything. You can just look it up. So, we want to let the kids access this information. We want to let them access AI and become good at using it to learn.

“They're going to use it regardless, so we have them generate ideas with AI. But in the end, they have to create something of their own. They have to apply what they learn. The arts foster that creativity, that critical thinking the kids need, ultimately, to be successful.”

Taylor has taken this commitment to arts education even further, establishing state-approved graduation pathways in choral music, band, and fine arts. The concept allows schools to create educational opportunities in areas of interest to the students, while avoiding classwork that previously was a barrier to many.

“A kid can get a graduation pathway and avoid passing Algebra II, or whatever else is holding them back,” said Dishon. “Instead, they can go through welding or culinary arts pathways. The state is now allowing schools to create their own locally initiated pathways.

“We knew we had enough courses to create these fine arts and music pathways. So, a kid can start off taking basic courses, and then they can take a business course that leads into their arts or their music. Then, they can go out in the community and get work-based learning at local businesses in addition to the courses that they're taking.”

At the end of the pathway, the student earns a diploma or certification in their favored field. The hope is that students will gravitate toward their interests and excel, while avoiding courses that hold them back, such as higher math or science, if their skills lie elsewhere.

“This allows a kid who can be very productive to go into a skilled trade or something like that, instead of being held back,” said Dishon. “They can now find an alternative path.”

And it all culminates for Taylor in the Titan Academy of the Arts. For more information about the academy, visit Taylor Community School Corporation on Facebook or by visiting www.taylor.k12.in.us.