GCAA: New public arts school in St. Louis spreads its wings

June 9, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

[Bias Warning: My 12-year old daughter happily attends the school I’m about to describe; this article might also serve as an invitation for you to learn more about Grand Center Arts Academy, especially if you have a 6th, 7th or 8th grade student in your home and you live in the St. Louis area].

About a year ago, my wife and I attended a meeting at which a calmly enthused woman named Lynne Glickert stood in front of a group of 15 families, waved her hands in the air in the process of describing a brand new art school she was trying to put together. The name of this new public school was to be Grand Center Arts Academy.

Ms. Glickert, formerly a music teacher who was to become the school’s first principal, continued:  The new school would start with only the 6th and 7th graders; it would add the 8th grade in the Fall of 2012 and it would continue to add a grade per year until it reached the 12th grade. It would be a public charter school, meaning that those eligible to attend (including any resident of the City of St. Louis and residents of many of the St. Louis suburbs) would do so without paying any out-of-pocket tuition. This new school would focus heavily on the arts, including theater, dance, music and visual arts. It would attract a lot of good students who were serious about the arts, she said. It would have a dedicated staff of teachers, who she was still in the process of hiring, she said. It would someday have a building of its own, though the school would initially be housed in the classrooms of a nearby Baptist Church. She urged that the arts would be taught by high quality professionals, who would accept children who had no formal training in the arts, as well as students who did have a head start. She urged that the core curriculum would be extremely important as well (Communications Arts,

GCAA Principal Lynne Glickert

Social Studies, Math and Science). Ms. Glickert urged that in addition to everything else she promised, this school would cultivate a direction for the art produced by its students; this would also be a school that maintained a focus on “social justice.”

The notable thing about this school, Ms. Glickert said, is that the students would receive at least two hours of intense art each and every day. Glickert introduced a quiet-spoken man named Dan Rubright, an accomplished musician and composer, who indicated that he would be involved in cultivating “Partnerships” with many St. Louis area arts organizations, including the St. Louis Symphony and many of the other arts organizations located in Grand Center, the Arts District of St. Louis.

Many of the parents nodded and wanted to believe Lynne and Dan, but they were not willing to buy into the hand-waving and the architectural sketches of what the school would someday look like.  In response, GCAA doubled down and opened its doors extremely wide, managing to attract enough sixth and seventh-graders to make it all official; the school would open.  By late Summer, 2010, it became apparent that many of those students came from the City of St. Louis (where my family lives) though many others came from dozens of surrounding municipalities. Many schools like to tout their alleged diversity, but GCAA turned out to be thoroughly diverse, racially, economically and culturally. It was a bird with many colors of feathers.

There have been many ups and downs through the year, most of those pains associated with a smallish staff trying to run a brand new school where most of the students, teachers and parents had never before met each other. One appreciates the importance of knitting the social fabric when one becomes part of a project like this. Other problems included acclimating the students (many of them describing–during an extended orientation week–that they came from low-performing schools) to a rigorous arts curriculum, as well as “core” classes where they were to be responsible for getting their work done, and getting it done on time.

Fast forward nine months to the present.  Grand Center Arts Academy about to finish its first year. It is clear that Ms. Glickert did, indeed, fill the temporary building with energetic students, many of whom are serious students. It is also now apparent that the GCAA community includes many dedicated teachers and administrators (including Lynne Glickert and Dan Rubright) who have been stretched thin in their dedication because they have been wearing many different hats at the fledgling school. Dozens of parents have emerged to help in a wide variety of ways. More help is on the way for 2012 with new administrative help, new teachers on the way, and a new crop of 6th graders about the join the rest of us. They will all be greeted at the door of their extraordinary newly-rehabbed building by Fred Bachman, a former police-officer for 30 years (and grandfather) who came out of retirement to provide security for these artsy 11 and 12 year olds. Little did I know that unassuming “Fred” would play such a key role as Unofficial Ambassador to the school. What else can you say when the “security officer” knows every child by name, knows their backgrounds, knows the ways in which they excel, knows their struggles, knows their parents, and provides endless encouragement to the kids? Of course, there are official school counselors and specialists too.  All of the students will also get to know teacher Drew Cowell, who absolutely insists that every person he meets has the ability to join in and create impressive music.   And they will meet and be impressed with Drama teacher Eric Connors, who has these students looking very Shakespearean in short order.

Those arts organization partnerships Dan Rubright promised have actually  materialized, and they have included visits to museums and galleries as well as visits by numerous artists, the likes of jazz musicians Jeremy Davenport and Peter Martin, and Disney animator Marlon West, as well as an extended off-site video-production class at PBS station KETC.

Over the past nine months those families who took the plunge have witnessed several hundred strangers morphing into a robust and mutually-nurturing educational community. It has become a place where the students are learning to find their way in life by making constant use of the arts, which will prepare them to to be arts-loving adults who will tend to set their priorities accordingly.  It is a place where diversity is not merely a word.  I’m truly excited that my daughter and my family are part of a public school, and it’s been a real educational experience for me to see, first-hand, the many challenges and successes to putting together a new school just down the street from Powell Hall, home of the St. Louis Symphony.

The video included in this article features the “Arts Infusion” that occurred last weekend. Some of the videos were shot on less than ideal equipment, but you will be able to see and hear the creative energy come through. At the “Arts Infusion,” most of the students participated in a wide variety of performances and/or displayed their visual art projects. “Arts Infusion” was both a fund-raiser and a celebration of what was and what is yet to come at Grand Center Arts Academy. More on the celebration here. What is important to know is that the video excerpts feature children who have now found a home in an intensely-taught arts-rich environment.

[If you or your children are interested in joining GCAA for the coming year, the remaining spots are filling up fast, but the possibility still remains. Call Principal Lynn Glickert at 314-533-1791.]

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Category: Art, Education, Films and Videos, music

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Mindy Carney says:

    My daughter (full disclosure, best friend of Erich's daughter!) is also finishing 6th grade at GCAA tomorrow, and I've watched the school change dramatically over these nine months. I've also watched my daughter grow and blossom through the year, and we've learned some incredible life-lessons along the way. Having been blown away this afternoon by performances, I'm really in awe of how far they've come. Working together takes on a new meaning when you watch 12- and 13-yr.-olds pull off amazing harmonies while dancing, lifting each other and suddenly losing their background music due to a technical glitch! They barely flinched and finished the song A capella, with strong voices and all the dance moves in place. Then Shakespeare, then hip-hop, then . . . and they don't even have their own building yet. LOVED it. We were in a wonderful, nurturing diverse school before and we loved it immensely. But this is real world diversity, kids who really didn't have much in common at all – except love for the arts. Check it out – seriously!

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