Ceramics class in a science lab? Here’s how State High’s art programs adapt to construction

Most teachers and students have moved into the new State College High School building, but those involved in the art and music programs have to wait a little longer.
Most teachers and students have moved into the new State College High School building, but those involved in the art and music programs have to wait a little longer. Centre Daily Times, file

They say art is wherever you can make it, and at State College Area High School, the arts program is doing just that amid the construction.

While most of the students and teachers have moved in to what is ready of the new building, those involved in the art and music programs have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, there is a lot of adaptation going on.

Jill Campbell, a learning enrichment teacher at the high school, as well as director of the State High Thespians, has been a part of the planning process from the beginning, working with the architects as early as 2015.

Campbell’s job embraces the arts, so she spends a lot of time with arts students both through the State High Thespians and a learning enrichment program called ARTsmART.

“In the beginning, we didn’t realize we were going to have to move out of the facility we’ve always had for a year and a half,” Campbell said. “We had to find temporary spaces for the arts to continue having instruction because the new arts wing, visual, music, theater and everything, would not be completed until summer of 2019.”

As part of the solution, these programs were relocated to repurposed spaces, formerly electronic and agriculture shops.

Though the rooms are spacious enough, there is a lot more than just space to consider for ensembles like band and orchestra. For example, getting heat and humidity right for instruments is important.

“The art rooms right now are in the STEM wing,” Campbell said. “The ceramics room is in a science lab because it has sinks and a lot more space.”

There is also a shed located in a courtyard where the kilns are stored to fire projects.

“When they’re ready with the auditorium (at the South Building), we’re just going to start having those rehearsals over there in the middle of the day just to make it easier for people to get to and from,” said Sam Schneider, a senior clarinet player in band.

Conversely, music theory classes are enjoying a space in the new building.

“The new classrooms really are a treat. The smart boards are a powerful tool for analyzing music and correcting homework, and for lecture,” said Erik Clayton, director of choirs and music theory teacher. “But otherwise the new room is great for theory and it also saves students a 12-minute crossing.”

In the meantime, after some searching, the State High Thespians finally settled on an alternate location for their spring musical, “Once Upon a Mattress,” which is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea.”

“We didn’t know what was going to happen and we were all really in the dark about it,” said Alicia Eckley, a senior and member of the State High Thespians executive board. “We wanted to help (Campbell) as much as we could, but there was only so much that we could do.”

As a musical requires a lot of set up in advance, Campbell decided it was best to find another location to put it on, rather than hope that the construction of the south building auditorium would not be delayed.

Campbell said contractors could not guarantee the space could be ready by April 2.

“We had that moment of ‘Oh my gosh, where will we do our show?’ but it was very short-lived. We realized that the way things were going ... We better ask that question, we better find out now and then we better find another space,” Campbell said. “That all happened in one week.”

In the end, the show will go on, and will be performed at the Playhouse Theatre on Penn State’s campus. Thanks to the district administrators, the Penn State Theatre faculty and university administration, things finally worked out, according to Campbell.

“Not only do we have a wonderful space in which to perform our spring musical,” Campbell said. “But our students will receive a hands-on education they will be able to put to use when we move into our new theater space on our own campus.”

The changes at State High are all aiming toward a necessary update to the old buildings, so despite the inconveniences now, Campbell and the students are looking forward to what’s in store for the future, and are trying not to let their temporary homes hinder their creativity and talents.

“We are so lucky that we work in a district where everyone cares about the arts,” Campbell said. “Everyone has worked really hard to make sure we could maintain our programs throughout the entire construction process.”

Brian Cunningham is a Penn State journalism student.