Idaho Fine Arts Academy takes ‘different’ learning approach to new facility

MERIDIAN — Idaho Fine Arts Academy vocal teacher Leigh Falconer likes her school’s “different” approach to learning.

And now, she’s glad more students will have a chance to experience it.

The academy’s recent cross-town move to a new facility means more than twice the available seats for students hoping to attend the Meridian-based magnet school — and a range of new amenities aimed at the arts.

For Falconer, teaching at the academy, which serves grades 6-12 in the West Ada School District, means letting kids explore the vocal arts outside the traditional choir model that doesn’t encourage as much creativity. Falconer believes her students can thrive singing a mix of contemporary music and classics.

“I really do believe what we do here is different, and it does give students a different experience than what they would have in a choir program,” said Falconer, who’s taught at the school for seven years.

The academy’s magnet-school model lets students in the state’s largest district pursue special interests in eight art disciplines: piano, strings, wind, jazz, dance, theatre, visual art and vocal. Magnet schools are public schools of choice that focus on specific themes like the arts, STEM or humanities. Idaho is home to 23 magnet schools, according to the State Department of Education.

Students at Idaho Fine Arts Academy train for 90 minutes a day. They aren’t charged tuition, but they must audition for admittance. Auditions for next school year will be held Feb. 26 and March 5. Students can apply for the school and auditions until Feb. 25.

The West Ada district sold the school’s old building last July in anticipation for the move. The new school is next to the district office and another local school of choice, Renaissance High School.

Students at the new facility recently practiced a self-produced rock song, in a studio-style room upstairs. They used to perform in their former school’s cafeteria, or rooms that weren’t soundproof. The echo of the drums sometimes drowned out other instruments and carried through hallways. In the new building, the students in the classroom next-door can’t even hear the drums, said Christian Housel, the school’s principal.

The school has moved into the new facility, but space is still being outfitted for improvements, Housel added. Within the next year to 18 months, leaders hope to have a 500-seat performing arts center.

Two-hundred students are enrolled this school year, state numbers show. Housel hopes to expand to 300 students next year, and to up that to 440 when the school is fully built out.

Pianist and senior Katie Hughes has attended the school since sixth grade. From a young age, Hughes was constantly singing snippets of songs on the radio. Her mom soon started her on piano lessons, which she grew to love.

Hughes doesn’t see herself in a performance career, but wants to teach high school English after graduating.

Still, she’s grateful for what she’s learned at the school.

“I love (the Idaho Fine Arts Academy), just fiercely,” she said. “It was kind of like a home away of home.”

Kyle Pfannenstiel

Kyle Pfannenstiel

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel covers the implementation of policy in Idaho’s K-12 public school system. He’s a military brat and former health care reporter who holds degrees in Journalism and Political Science from University of Idaho. Follow Kyle on Twitter @pfannyyy. He can be reached at [email protected].

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