Who didn’t grow up wanting to go to the New York City High School for the Performing Arts? That was the name of the fabulous high school in the TV show Fame that fostered your academic side while giving you ample opportunity to break out in song and dance at any moment.

As a teen I begged my parents to send me to the actual Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts on which the show was based. As a musician and vocalist I thought my dreams of performing at Carnegie Hall could only be realized as a student of that high school.

As it turned out I participated in band, choir and drama club at the not-so-famous Eaton High School. While it did not lead me to fame and fortune I did end up singing opera and playing bassoon at Bowling Green State University on scholarship.

Lucky for Dayton-area junior high and high school students they can make their artistic dreams come true thanks to the prestigious Stivers School for the Arts located right in the heart of downtown. The only 7-12 grade school in the Dayton Public Schools, Stivers offers programs in the arts and is recognized for its rigorous academics.

I talked with two Dayton moms about their sons’ experiences at Stivers. If you have a student interested in the arts school here’s what you need to know.

Not just about art
With over 900 students in grades 7-12, Stivers has been ranked “One of America’s Best High Schools” according to US World News and World Report receiving a silver award in 2010 and 2012 and the bronze award in 2009.

Stivers students consistently score above average on state tests. Graduates from the school have attended the finest universities and colleges in America, including Brown University, Syracuse University, New York University, The Juilliard School, Cornell University and many others. In fact, many students receive thousands of dollars in scholarships every year.

Meredith Wahlers’ son is a senior at Stivers. He learned about the school through his eighth grade art teacher. After securing a late audition he learned that he was accepted two days after his freshman year started.

“He transferred there and it was a bit of a catch-up game,” says Wahlers as the Stivers students had already been in school for over a week.

Wahlers believes that Stivers provided the perfect opportunity for her son to do what he loved—visual arts—while keeping up with his academic work. 

“He was able to focus on both his magnet and graduation requirements. In fact, he finished the math requirements his junior year. He never took a study hall—nor did he want to.”

While Stivers focuses on arts and academics, the school does offer the usual assortment of clubs and athletics for students to get the full high school experience. From book clubs, debate team and the National Honor Society to basketball, volleyball, soccer and many more, the school gives students plenty of opportunity to grow and develop all of their abilities.

For Emily McCann’s son, Michael, a senior focused on orchestra and jazz, Stivers not only provided creative outlets but fostered his academic side.

“It cracks me up when people ask if he takes subjects like math, English, science, etc. Of course he does,” says McCann. “Plus, Stivers is a small school and has done different things for Michael when there is an interest, like creating a debate team that went to competitions and providing guidance to help him get all the way to state in a science fair.”

But, oh, the arts
Stivers is a prime example of how an integrated arts curriculum can enhance academic performance. Study after study have shown a positive relationship between participation in the arts and other more academic subjects like science, math and language arts.

Students can major in art themes including band, orchestra, choir, piano, dance, creative writing, theater and visual arts. They receive individualized instruction through one-on-one contact with many of Dayton’s leading professional and performing artists.

Students also attend special seminars and master classes, and are given several opportunities for performance and creative expression throughout their time at the school. For Wahlers’ son, Stivers provided just the right creative outlets for him.

“This school is exactly what he needed,” she says. “The Stivers teachers are able to help direct and focus the creative mind—all gifts that other schools don’t value as much. It is amazing to see the students mature into the people they become. So many schools stifle the independent spirt and at Stivers it’s celebrated.”

McCann agrees.

“I truly believe Michael wouldn’t have had as much opportunity to learn multiple instruments from our home school. He not only excelled in flute, but he plays the piccolo, saxophone and clarinet. Whenever he wants to learn something new the answer has always been yes.”

How to get in and get involved
All students in every major must attend an adjudicated audition to get into Stivers. Adjudicators include the directors of each arts magnet area and professional artists and performers from the Dayton Arts community.

The Stivers Parent Association is open to all parents/guardians of students and helps develop the culture of the school along with the school’s leadership team. The parents work together to create carpools, as Wahlers learned, since busing is not provided.

“If your child has that creative desire and is self-motivated I would recommend you go for it. You will not regret it,” says McCann.

Wahlers encourages parents to also get involved once their child is accepted. “Whether it is a field trip, volunteering to help or supporting a student hoping to attend the senior trip abroad just say yes. I can’t say enough positive things about the curriculum and staff at Stivers. They are a gift to our family.”

McCann says, “Stivers is a small school with a large heart. It is an open and supportive environment with an eclectic body of students. The creativity that happens there daily blows my mind.”

The next round of auditions for the upcoming school year at Stivers is in February. Visit stivers.org for more information. 




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