This article was originally published in the Progress Times issue dated Friday, Feb. 8, 2019.
For Fine Arts Director Ruben Adame, the newest FA-related development at LJISD will provide more opportunities to students.
The La Joya Independent School District is hoping to enrich the education of their students by implementing curriculum that highlights fine arts at all grade levels.
While they have had successful arts programs at the high school level for years, recently the district has designated three elementary campuses specializing in fine arts, and starting next school year (2019-2020), a middle school will also be rebranded.
Currently, Emiliano Zapata Elementary is considered a Fine Arts Specialty School. According to a press release from the district, “curriculum at Zapata Elementary integrates academics and fine Arts to allow children to learn and grow while enhancing each student’s artistic potential.”
John F. Kennedy and Kiki Camarena Elementary schools are designated STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), motivating students to excel and become more “well-rounded.”
Adame, who has been the La Joya ISD Fine Arts Director for four years now, says he feels supported by campus efforts towards FA education.
“The district supports fine arts so much,” Adame said. “It offers kids opportunities; kids in another district with our same demographics will probably not have the same opportunities that our kids have.”
“That’s solely based on the support that our district gives us, our board members, our superintendent, our parents,” Adame added. “The support has been in place for many years.”
The press release from the district also stated that studies indicate that schools with active arts programs “do better at standardized test scores than their counterparts,” and that “students who participate in fine arts activities have a higher chance of employment, since a vast majority of businesses are looking for creativity skills and resourceful applicants when hiring.” Adame noted that the arts can expand a student’s thinking skills.
“It develops skills that I consider lifelong skills, like being able to be a team player, getting along with others and managing your time,” Adame said. “It gives them all the thinking skills they need to accomplish the things that they have to do. It has a direct impact in their academic classes.”
Teachers and administrators alike would tell Adame throughout his career that he always has the best students.
“Our kids that participate with us get better because they’re with us, and I believe that to this day,” Adame said. “They’re groomed for the future just because they’re involved in our programs.”
The scope of the La Joya ISD Fine Arts programs includes dance, award-winning art and music organizations, theatre, band, mariachi and folklorico.
Next school year, LJISD will designate Leo J. Leo Elementary as an additional Fine Arts Specialty School, and Cesar Chavez Middle School to be the first Fine Arts-specialized middle school in the district.
“We’re excited that this is in place,” Adame said. “We feel like we’ll see an impact in our middle school and high school programs because of these designated campuses.”
Adame said the designated schools will be taught things related to Fine Arts that regular elementary and middle schools are not normally versed in.
“We just sent all the fifth graders from those campuses to a Valley Symphony Orchestra performance at the McAllen Performing Arts Center,” Adame said. “That’s the first time that our district has done that in a long time, and those are the types of efforts that we’re committed to: to create an eye-opening experience for the kids.”
The district has started to re-launch the Academy of Arts & Humanities (housed at La Joya High School), where students can learn in “small learning environments, hands-on experiences, meet professionals in the field and potentially earn an associates degree in Fine Arts, Music, Drama or English.”
“It’s very performance-based,” Adame said. “We want to create more opportunities for our students to have more performances in different types of settings. We want to do different things that will be available to students outside of high school, we want to bring them in.”
Support of FA education is also cultivated at the district’s own Alejandro “Alex” H. Saenz Performing Arts Center, where students of all ages have gotten the chance to perform. Elementary students have been putting on annual Elementary Music Festivals at the center, where featured students from each campus come together to perform for parents.
“We’re looking to do more things to create a more enjoyable environment for our kids,” Adame said. “It’s been fantastic to see the smiles on their faces – to be on that stage in this venue, how many more opportunities will they get to do that?”
LJISD won the 2018 Best Communities for Music Education by the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Foundation, and have currently been gearing up for their annual Mariachi and Folklorico showcases for La Joya High School and Palmview High School. PHS will perform Saturday, Feb. 9 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 10 at 2 p.m., and LJHS will perform the following weekend, while Juarez-Lincoln performed last weekend on Feb. 2 and 3.
“We want our entire community to support all our Fine Arts programs and get their children involved,” Adame said. “Because we have a lot to offer, not just the study of it, but the ability to teach life skills to these kids. They will be absolutely prepared for anything outside of high school.”