For Northwestern High School senior William Webb, going to class means working on flexibility, control and technique – and listening to music.
The Mount Rainier resident is one of 35 dance majors enrolled in The Jim Henson Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, or VPA, — a rigorous arts program launched this school year at Northwestern High School.
“Most classes you have to use your brain. In dance you can think, but also use your body to contribute,” Webb said.
VPA students at the Hyattsville school can major in dance, vocal music, instrumental music, drama, visual arts and interactive media production.
“I’m going to try to use this knowledge and see where it takes me,” Webb said.
According to the Board of Education’s 2014 operating budget, the Prince George’s County public school system allotted $1.4 million to fund the VPA at Northwestern.
Prince George’s County schools spokeswoman ShaVon McConnell said the funds helped pay for additional staff, equipment and other resources.
Leona Lowery, Northwestern’s VPA coordinator, said students have about three hours of classes in their major; all are bused to Northwestern an hour before school and some stay after to further pursue their studies.
Northwestern’s VPA stems from the Jim Henson Academy of Arts, Media and Communications, named after Muppets creator and Northwestern alumnus Jim Henson in 2002.
Truly Bennett, dance educator for the program, said additional resources allow students to explore the curriculum in greater depth.
“We’re definitely focused on training them to be artists, as opposed to just giving them a taste,” Bennett said.
Kalah Williams of Hyattsville, a sophomore dance major, said the classes are intense.
“I’m embracing it all. It’s just helping me become better in the future,” Williams said.
Enrollment expanded from 125 to 215 students and the majority of applicants were accepted into the program, Lowery said. She said the program added seven staff members to accommodate the new students and additional classes.
She said the program will expand in upcoming years and accept students outside of the Northwestern’s attendance zone.
Northwestern’s total enrollment remained at about 2,400 this fall, Lowery said.
Northwestern and Suitland High School are the only two high schools in the Prince George’s County school system with a Visual and Performing Arts program.
Maria L. Saldaña, Suitland’s VPA coordinator, said the school’s 97 VPA graduates from 2013 received a combined $7.3 million in scholarship offers.
“It shows college admissions people that these are serious students, and they are dedicated,” Saldaña said.