The FOCRLS parents’ volunteer meeting on Wednesday evening, January 23, 2013, featured a “Spotlight on the Arts” by the dynamic Dr. Elaine Koury, K-12 Coordinator of Visual and Performing Arts in the Cambridge Public Schools. Dr. Koury – Bates College (B.A.), U Mass Amherst (M.A.T.), Harvard (Ed.D.) – has been a teacher in Boston and Cambridge, a principal in Boston and San Francisco, and an actress/singer in Cambridge, Boston, and New York. She has written many plays for young people and one for adults and has won several awards, including Emmy, Ollie, and Gabriel.
Her lively and engaging overview of arts offerings at CRLS brought home the hard work and commitment by staff that lies behind the ever-increasing improvement in the visual and performing arts departments at the high school, and the importance of the parent and community support that helps contribute to their success.
When she was first hired for the job six years ago, one of the main things Dr. Koury was tasked with was to improve the music department. Guillermo Nojechowicz whom she hired in 2007 has been a great boon to the school. He has immensely improved the level of music classes, bands and clubs.
The performing arts department, including theatre, music and dance, has been steadily improving. It took some time to organize a uniform for the school band, the members of which are now attired in black, gray, and white – CRLS school colors – proudly representing their school at games and other events. There are now no less than six a capella groups, who make it a point to accept all invitations to sing, in and out of the school, always accompanied by a faculty member.
Dr Koury outlined the efforts of the department faculty to provide opportunities for all students to develop, and involve students from a wide array of skills and backgrounds. For example, in music, this means parsing the scores to allow students at beginner levels to have sections of pieces that they are able to handle, while providing opportunities for more advanced students to be challenged and shine. They also place a high value on diversity, making active efforts to recruit across the student body. All of this takes a tremendous amount of time and dedication on the part of staff. In just one example, Dr. Koury pointed out that each student-choreographed piece in a dance recital represents hours and hours of work not just by the student but by a faculty member.
The Visual and Performing Arts department is also closely connected to various community organizations and higher education institutes in the area. An upcoming event is a gallery installation at the Longfellow Hall at the Harvard Graduate School of Education – the HGSE will also host a reception for the event.
It does the Cambridge public school system credit that CRLS students routinely do as well or better at the Scholastic awards and other inter-school competitions and events than private schools.
Dr. Koury underlined the significance of parent involvement. She cited the many ways in which they contributed to the program, from volunteering at the box office at performances and cooking for cast dinners, to the role of the Arts Committee in stressing to the school and School Department administration the importance of the arts program at CRLS. She also stressed the importance of parents’ presence at performances, which makes the experience far more meaningful for the students.
Dr. Koury herself is a shining example of how the arts can help students to develop their true potential. In a touching anecdote she shared that she was so shy and quiet as a little girl that her first grade teacher actually thought she could not speak, and wrote in her report card that she was doing remarkably well, considering her “handicap.” It was her music teacher who got her to “discover” her voice, and take part in the chorus, a stepping stone to her auditioning for the school musical, and from that to a career in theater and the arts.