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San Marin Debuts Program to Emphasize Arts

They're calling it smARTt — San Marin Arts and Technical Arts — and they hope it will attract parents and kids who might be pondering other options for freshman year.

Megan Caldwell, a senior at San Marin High School, will contribute occasional stories to Novato Patch throughout the school year. This is her fifth assignment for Novato Patch.

Thursday is a big day at — not just for the eighth-graders who are shadowing to learn more about high school life, but also for faculty at San Marin involved in a new program called smARTt — San Marin Arts and  Technical Arts.

The program is not just a marketing campaign but a coordinated effort by school departments to increase opportunities for students to experience what San Marin offers.

“The launch of smARTt is our way of bringing focus to the outstanding achievements of San Marin’s existing arts programs, and we encourage greater collaboration in the future,” Principal Adam Littlefield said.

At its core, smARTt is an integrated group of University of California-approved classes that include visual arts, performing arts, creative writing, journalism and technical arts. Through these offerings, students can take advanced placement and honors classes during regular school hours and fit other UC-approved electives into their schedule. Students can choose to take elective courses during one semester such as journalism, photography, drama, musical theater and technical theater. 

There is nothing new about the classes being offered, but this is the first time these classes are branded under a program name and the teachers will be in better communication about who is teaching what. There will be more chances, Littlefield said, for students to use skills in several classes under the smARTt heading.

"We've been meeting about this for months among the faculty, and it's been so great to hear all the fantastic ideas," he said. "I think the students will really benefit from that."

Littlefield said it's fair to call smARTt a campaign to bring more attention to San Marin as parents ponder all the options for their eighth-graders — from , , Marin Catholic High, Marin Academy, Branson, San Domenico, St. Vincent de Paul and other private schools. Novato High's enrollment stands at 1,380, partly because of the growth and success of Marin School of the Arts. This year, according to statistics, 131 kids transferred from San Marin to Novato High vs. 91 that transferred from Novato High to San Marin.

But Littlefield, whose San Marin student body numbers 892, said he doesn't expect smARTt to instantly solve the issue of student body imbalance at the local high schools — a subject that the district is in the process of reviewing.

“smARTt is our way of bringing focus to outstanding achievements of San Marin’s existing arts programs," he said. "The result may be that we attract more students. MSA is a wonderful program at Novato High School. I believe that San Marin has a special program with smARTt.”

Packaging school pride is another motivator, said Linda Kislingbury, director of smARTt and head of the drama department.

“I realized that we needed to package and sell ourselves," she said. "No one connects us as one group, but we absolutely have everything that anyone can ever want. We do four shows a year. No one else does that in the entire county. We also have the only student-run newspaper in Novato and a class that offers darkroom photography.”

smARTt offers classes in the evenings, giving students an opportunity to take a wider variety of classes. Musical theater and advanced drama hold their rehearsals in the evenings.

This fall, smARTt produced the play The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the musical White Christmas. This spring it will produce the play Hiding in the Open and the musical A Chorus Line. Students can participate in both plays and musicals throughout the year without any scheduling conflicts. The dance class also puts on routine shows throughout the year.

Journalism teaches students various kinds of writing styles and publishes the Pony Express, the student-run newspaper. The journalism class, taught by Scott MacLeod, not only helps students write polished and professional articles, but it also trains them on how to use publishing software. MacLeod said journalism students learn to write in a range of styles — “inverted pyramid”-style news, lighter-hearted features and editorial/opinion. He said studies show that journalism students score higher on writing tests than non-journalism students.

“(That’s) mainly due to the fact they write more often and learn a variety of styles that go beyond the traditional English essay,” MacLeod said. “Also, colleges like journalism students, particularly editors, because they have to be great writers, use good judgment and lead a group of fellow students to publish a paper on deadline. Last year's class alone had students currently at Duke, Notre Dame and Berkeley, to name just a few.”

The creative writing curriculum teaches students how to write short stories, narratives and screenplays. They also participate in Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry competition that takes place every year.

smARTt teachers will incorporate other smARTt subjects into their curriculum. Kislingbury said she has her advanced drama students sing a song for the class, learn painting techniques when building their sets and write press releases to promote their plays.

“Teachers are looking at ways to collaborate and integrate subject areas," Littlefield said. "The staff hopes that students will find more meaning in their learning when they see purposeful connections across academic disciplines. For instance, the creative writing class connected with the drama class during the production of Huck Finn.”

Music director Samantha Maaslehbrown, said she hopes smARTt will help San Marin grow into an even closer-knit community, teaching students the value of many artistic disciplines.

“I also hope that smARTt will help Novato see the great things we have going on here at San Marin and all we have to offer to our children and our community,” she said.

Sylvia Barry January 26, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Marla - What San Marin has always been able to offer to our students (My kids) is the opportunity to take many excellent art programs while doing various other things. One of my older son's classmate took 8 performing arts classes (many are offered in the evenings), maintain excellent grades and went to Oberlin. My yonger son's friends participated in sports, Robotics, Mock Trial while taking a whole spectrum and very excellent of arts related classes. The King this year is absolutely wonderful in both drama and music theater (probably many other programs, if I know him). The writer, Megan, I think she is also in music and journalism, I would assume. These are just very few examples. I don't follow the students closely, just something I observe from my kids. San Marin traditionally does not like to toot its own horn. I am glad it finally decides to highlight some of their wonderful programs! It's way over due!
Allison Keaney January 26, 2012 at 06:53 PM
My daughter is now a sophomore at San Marin and has truly enjoyed the arts experience. I would like to rebutt a bit and say that SM is not a copy cat of Novato's superbly run and modeled MSA but offers outstanding arts curriculum in a different way. When selecting her high school, our daughter realized she had to really, really think about what she wanted to do. A lifelong dancer, we thought she would be best served by attending MSA in the dance department. What she realized after the audition and application process, was that she wanted to do and try several things: costuming, singing, musical theater as well as dance. San Marin has offered her the opportunity to do ALL of that, and still take her honors and AP classes. In three semesters she has been in one play, two musicals, seven dance performances and three show choir performances. She has been manager or designer of costumes for three productions and still made high honor roll. Will she be able to audition for Alvin Ailey? Probably not. Is she getting the broad based arts experience she hoped for? Absolutely. Our daughter was looking for a program where she could "dabble." Some kids are ready to focus and master their chosen subject. Everyone is different and we are extremely fortuntate in Novato to have both right in our backyards. I applaude the faculty for grouping the departments under smARTt. We almost didn't even look at SM for high school. How sad if we hadn't.
Amy Oclassen January 30, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Go San Marin! They are smart to recognize that marketing their excellent arts programs is key to attracting students. Many great points have been made in the comments here about how MSA and San Marin both offer terrific programs but also how they are differentiated and why each of them might appeal to different students. All our kids are individuals and all of our schools need to focus on and market their different strengths. I still contend that NUSD would have better spent their $85K (and counting, apparently...) on a district-wide marketing and communications plan to fully inform the community of all of their choices from among our truly excellent schools K-12.
Steve April 29, 2012 at 07:59 AM
I am from out of town and would like to find out if Novato high is, generally speaking, considered the best high school, superior to San Marin, amongst the majority of folks in Novato, or does San Marin have that reputation over Novato High? MSA is an outstanding program but does it reside on the inferior or superior high school campus in Novato, with regard to general public sentiment???
Sylvia Barry April 29, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Hi Steve: I think both high schools have it's pros and cons; advantages and disadvantages. The two high schools have different emphasises. If you are looking for high school for your kids, you really should look at your kids' strength and weakness, likes and dislikes; bring them to each high school, observe and ask questions to find out which high school is a better fit for them. Keep an open mind and not have preconception is very important in your research. Ask the right questions and not just go with the hype will be a prudent thing to do for the benefit of your students or any other student. I will be very happy to talk to you about it. email me or call me. You can find my contact info easily.

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