ARTS Education Front and Center

Interview with Marchéta Williams, Director of VAPA

By Frédéric M. Martin, Editor-in-Chief

Last year, the MUSD Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) program started a new tradition: the annual “Winter Showcase Party”, which will take place once again at Fresno’s landmark Warnor’s Theater. The December 2017 showcase involved a close cooperation between multiple areas of study, visual and performing arts students, in cooperation with the history department, to feature Madera’s history through the combination of folkloric dances, musical bands, and drama performances. Students researched the history of Madera in the 1930s and 1940s, then gave their findings to the writing class students, who then composed the script for the drama students. The process delivered a cohesive product that was well received. The orchestra students and the jazz band performed at the event, and student artwork was displayed in the lobby. Thanks to Dr. Marchéta Williams, Madera Unified’s VAPA program is running on all cylinders: this year the school district has sent three music teachers, from a high school, a middle, and an elementary school, to Las Vegas, to develop a new mariachi program at all school levels in Madera. Another first, in the coming year, MUSD is expanding its string program, beyond the elementary school level, with a new string ensemble at the Desmond Middle School site, with cellos, violas and violins. At this point, there are no contrabasses in the program. The school district is also expanding its jazz program with multiple ensembles throughout the district: two jazz bands at Howard, one at Thomas Jefferson, another one at Desmond, and at MLK. Madera Unified is continuing to offer general music education at all sites from Pre-K through 4th grade level and is about to launch ukulele programs in a few (yet to be selected) schools for third grade students. “Our next visual performing arts challenge is to start a dance program,” said Dr. Williams, that initially, will most likely be featured as a component activity in an after-school program. MUSD’s main goal is to expose all the kids to music education and allow the spark to take its course. VAPA brought back the Almond Festival this year, a theater activity, available at the elementary K through 2nd grade level, with lots of participation, although the program was not mandated; the event took place at the United Methodist Church; Williams confirmed: “we are working towards implementing a theater program to all 2nd grades in the district to expose all our students to theater.” MUSD also featured a district wide elementary choral festival, in place for the last two years, wherein all the teachers prepare two songs, obtain written and verbal feedback, as well as some fine tuning and training tips from external adjudicators who were brought in specifically for this project. This year the students were given the opportunity to evaluate the performance, so as to let them participate in the decisions needed to improve their ensemble work: are they fully paying attention? could you hear them? were the words pronounced properly? At the 6th grade and middle school levels, honor band gets to work with an outside director who comes in twice a week. This coming year, honor band is expanded to high school. Honor band is now going to be honor concert, thanks to our developed strings sections. VAPA is not just about music, theater and dance: Madera Unified boasts a very large art program at Madera South, with four teachers teaching art five periods a day: ceramics, drawing, painting; and MUSD proudly offers Advanced Placement Art at both high schools. Madera High has two full time art teachers. Digital media is prominently offered at the three Madera Unified School District’s middle schools and at Madera High. The VAPA team is working hard to complete its plan for the coming year, which will be available from the website once it has been finalized and approved.

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