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Arts academy goes forward while crisis hits education
The accredited academy has a mission to serve students of the arts while preparing for higher education
By Gail Wesson
The Press-Enterprise

Sunday, November 1, 1992 

The hills are alive with the sound of music, the rhythm of dance and the strokes of brushes in this mountain community. Even the academic side has something to sing about.

The Arts Academy of Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, a private fine and performing arts high school, has earned a six-year accreditation for its two-year-old academic program from the same association that scrutinizes public schools. And, the school's enrollment reached capacity for the first time this fall.

All this comes in spite of an economic recession that has affected educational institutions elsewhere. The academy has a mission to serve students of the arts while preparing for higher education, whether it be in universities or conservatories. "I think it's the consistency and adherence to our mission that makes us succeed," said William Lowman, academy headmaster and executive director of its parent, ISOMATA. "There is an expectation that the students will put forth an effort to succeed," he said, and there is a strong sense of community among the students and staff. Most higher institutions had accepted graduates even though the academy lacked accreditation, but the accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges is viewed as a plus.

The association describes accreditation as a way to assure excellence in education, continued school improvement and existence of clearly defined educational goals and objectives that students can achieve. "It's important for families to realize it's accredited, that we are meeting an educational standard that is recognized by other schools and colleges," said James Zuberbuhler, dean of external affairs.

Earl W. Fisher, Idyllwild Arts Foundation board chairman, called accreditation a tribute to the quality of the education, the arts program and the teachers. The academy is one of three private independent secondary arts boarding schools in the country. The others are in Michigan and Massachusetts. The closest public and private day programs are in the Los Angeles area. Prospective students must qualify academically, audition in their music or arts field and socially fit in to the academy, which is set among the pine trees of the San Jacinto Mountains. The schedule is rigorous, with academics in the morning, arts classes in the afternoon, hours of rehearsals, Saturday morning school and commutes for many students to Los Angeles for private lessons with masters in their fields.

To prepare for the accreditation review, an arts academy team of Lowman, Zuberbuhler and Academic Dean Sharon Adams aided by 10 committees assessed the school's philosophy, staff, students, facilities and programs. The self study was followed up by an association team visit. The academy learned in July that it had received the maximum accreditation term.

Long known for its summer arts program and conference facilities, ISOMATA opened the Arts Academy in the fall of 1986. The teen-agers studied academics through what was then called Elliott-Pope Preparatory School, also in Idyllwild, and received diplomas through the now-closed private school. In the fall of 1990, ISOMATA hired a dozen teachers to begin offering its own academics instruction. Late in the first semester, the financially strapped Elliott-Pope closed its doors and ISOMATA opened its doors to some of the students left in limbo.

Sarah Blaschko of Idyllwild was one of those students. She and her family evaluated Hemet High School and the Arts Academy and chose the latter. Academics were a principal interest, but "she was really interested in visual arts," said her father, Dr. William Blaschko. The academy offered much smaller classes, flexibility in advancing students to higher course work and the arts exposure, he said. Blaschko considered accreditation important to ensure Sarah received credit for her classes for college admission.

Beyond basics, the academy offers advanced college placement classes in physics, calculus and history. Arts instruction includes chamber orchestra, musical theater repertory, jazz dance, sculpture and photography.

Not only has the academy reached its enrollment goal of 135 students, but Zuberbuhler is proud that 82 of the 90 eligible students returned this year. The 53 newcomers accepted invitations to attend after a screening process that started with inquiries from 2,172 potential applicants, he said. Besides the attributes of the academy program and staff, Zuberbuhler said the academy has succeeded in retaining students because they and their families are told what to expect and, "I think their expectations are fulfilled.

About 15 of the students already call Idyllwild home before they were accepted into the academy. Administrators would like to see more students from Riverside County apply. The academy struggles to get the message across that "we're not this institution that caters to privileged people," Zuberbuhler said. Some 93 academy students receive financial aid. The academy earned a six-year accreditation, but there will be a follow-up review in two years. The association team said the academy needs a bigger library and a better physical education program. "We don't have a gymnasium, we don't have a typical (physical education) facility," Zuberbuhler said.

Copyright: The Press-Enterprise

Last Updated: 02/12/01
Copyright 1998 David Gotfredson