I’m happy to go on record as being supportive of the proposed fine arts charter school in Columbia County. I’ve spoken to the organizers, attended public meetings and find their model both inspiring and sustainable. I feel like fiscal concerns have been addressed, details of infrastructure are being given the proper measure of attention and the educational theory that is the foundation for any educational venture is extraordinary.
But that’s not the reason I’m excited about this charter school. My reasons are far less logical and far more personal. Though I like to think of myself as analytical and thoughtful, I’ll be the first to admit that on this occasion I’m thinking with my heart in addition to my head.
You see, I was fortunate enough to receive a fine arts education, and it changed my life. It might have even saved it.
In 1981, as the beginning of the school year loomed, I was very much a stranger in a strange land. My family had only recently moved to Augusta, and I was a child who was small, sensitive and had perhaps been overly sheltered. I had difficulty engaging in traditional classroom environments and had struggled academically because of it. I, with good reason, found the idea of going to a large school of strangers terrifying.
But I got lucky.
You see, the summer I moved to Augusta, a grand experiment was being undertaken on Telfair Street. There, an aging elementary school was being transformed. I was at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School from the moment it opened until I graduated from high school some five years later. Those years, the transition between childhood and the adult we will become, are often called our formative years. That was certainly the case for me.
Like most students at Davidson, it was always unlikely that I would become a professional artist or actor. I would never tour as a musician or dancer – particularly as a dancer. That was never the point. Davidson wasn’t about training for future careers. It was about teaching those of us that had gathered, as strangers, from all corners of the county, not only the difference between a flat and a sharp but how a community might be formed. It taught the importance of creative thinking and problem solving. It taught logic using not only numbers but notes as its symbolic language.
Five years, over the course of a lifetime, isn’t long. A flash really. But those five years, for me, proved nearly as important to the person I am today as the woman I would marry and the children I would father.
It was at Davidson I was introduced to those things – art and music and literature – that would become my passion and eventually, inform my career. It was at Davidson that I would bond over the common joy found in the creative impulse, forming relationships that sustain me to this day. It was at Davidson that this frightened introvert was transformed into someone far more comfortable with his place in the world.
I owe it all to Davidson. I owe it all to a fine arts education.
Now I will be the first to admit that the education I received at Davidson is not for everyone. It is most effective with students that respond academically to the lessons learned creatively. That is a special sort of learner, a learner whose needs are not always addressed. Mine were addressed because I had the good fortune of living in Richmond County. My daughter – who for better or worse is very much like me at her age – does not. I believe she is exactly the kind of student that would benefit from a fine arts-infused education.
So do I believe that a charter school in Columbia County is a good idea because it helps address a population problem that is starting to affect schools in the district? Yes. Do I think it’s a good idea because I believe an educational alternative can only enhance the community as a whole? Absolutely.
But the real reason I choose to support a fine arts charter school in Columbia County is because I know there are kids out there like me. I know there are kids that find a traditional learning environment difficult and intimidating. I know there are kids that would prosper if offered a different model.
I know there are kids that need saving.
I know, because I did.