Making an impact

Music professor helps Midlands community with new arts school

Some professors at the University of South Carolina have waited a long time for a charter school in the Midlands that would provide a free public education to middle and high school students interested in the arts. After years of planning and preparation, that wait is finally over.

The Midlands Arts Conservatory, located at 3806 North Main St., in the Eau Claire neighborhood, will open its doors on Aug. 20. It will be the first charter school in the Midlands that allows students to choose which art education they would like to pursue, ranging from dance, music, theater to the visual arts.

Robert Jesselson is a Carolina distinguished professor emeritus in the School of Music and a Midlands Arts Conservatory board member. Jesselson, who was named the Governor’s Professor of the Year in 2013 and was head of the USC String Project for 15 years, has worked to bring the arts to primary and secondary education students.

“There’s a lot of research that has been done on the effect on the brain of the arts and how that helps with self-discipline, with school attendance, with SAT scores,” Jesselson says. “The research has been done, and it’s clear that the arts have an enormous impact on who we are — and who we are as a society.”

Now that the school is officially opening, there will be opportunities for the university to work closely with the charter school, including the Suzuki Academy program, which offers children ages 3 and older lessons for the violin, viola, cello and guitar.

“The kids will have access to many things here at the university,” Jesselson says. “A good example of that is our Suzuki program, which is a big part of what we’re doing with our outreach from the School of Music, which is also going to be connected with the Midlands Arts Conservatory. It’s going to start small and, as it grows, I think the connections with the university and community will deepen.”

Jesselson, who has been with the charter school since its inception, believes an arts education is valuable, no matter which career path students choose.

“It’s very important that the arts be a part of our lives, no matter what the profession is,” Jesselson says. “We want to prepare students not only for art careers, but also for just being artists themselves and then going off in other directions and becoming great lawyers and doctors and supporting the arts.”

The kids will have access to many things here at the university ... It’s going to start small and, as it grows, I think the connections with the university and community will deepen.

Robert Jesselson, Carolina distinguished professor emeritus and Midlands Arts Conservatory board member

The school will have 120 sixth- and seventh-graders in its first year. Organizers plan to add one grade level each year, eventually being available for sixth- through 12th-grade students.

Students from across the state can visit the Midlands Arts Conservatory website to submit a free application. If the number of applicants exceeds the number of available spots, students will be selected by random public lottery.

Shannon Hickey, principal at the Midlands Arts Conservatory, has worked closely with the professors on the board.

“The Midlands Arts Conservatory is very fortunate to have so many great connections to the University of South Carolina,” Hickey says. “Moving into the Columbia area and being a part of this project, I have seen firsthand the impact the University of South Carolina is making in the lives of students, collegiate and K-12 alike.”

Learn more

Visit the Midlands Arts Conservatory website to learn more about the school.

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