SUMMERVILLE — Alston Middle School seventh-grader RoShani Glover wishes she could showcase her gymnastics and cheerleading abilities at school.
If she attended Rollings Middle School of the Arts, RoShani figures she'd have plenty of chances to tumble, strut and shake during school performances. That's because music theater productions, piano recitals and visual arts demonstrations are commonplace at Dorchester District 2's popular magnet school.
Students at Alston have access to some arts courses, but the programs don't compare with those offered at Rollings. The "excellent" academically rated arts magnet school recently was the only middle school in the state honored with a Carolina First Palmetto's Finest Award, and competition is fierce when students audition for coveted slots.
But even without gaining admittance to Rollings, RoShani soon will have a chance to excel at her traditional middle school.
A $900,000 U.S. Department of Education grant announced earlier this year has funded a newfound focus on the arts at Alston. Beginning next year, Alston students will choose among 11 arts courses ranging from
percussion ensemble to theater arts to classical guitar.
The school is in the process of getting sixth- and seventh-graders and incoming fifth-graders to fill out a survey listing their top three arts electives. Students would take the same arts course every day for the entire year, and the school plans to employ at least seven arts teachers.
RoShani will take dance.
"I'm excited to invite my friends from Rollings to our concerts," she said. "They keep saying, 'Now your school will be just like us.' "
Larry Barnfield, the district's director of fine arts, said the grant requires officials to track data for three years to determine whether incorporating the arts as a major course of study will lead to academic progress and higher standardized test scores.
The goal isn't to compare Alston with Rollings but to compare Alston with traditional middle schools where the arts are taught as "rotating" electives and not emphasized as much as English or science.
"In some schools, students are assigned to an arts area, they spend nine weeks in that class and then they move on to something else," Barnfield said. "We want to see if students who spend quality time in an arts area achieve differently than students at schools who have that rotating approach."
Although officials shy away from equating Alston's arts courses with Rollings' programs, Alston Principal Sam Clark said he's hearing excitement from parents. Parents who worry about their children "freezing up" during the pressurized Rollings audition are relieved their kids can have access to the arts without having to go through the admittance process, he said.
Choral music teacher Lorraine White said teachers are thrilled that more students, some who haven't ever explored their artistic talents, will have the chance to receive praise.
"This will allow everyone to find their niche," she said. "We don't exactly know what to expect, but we are gung-ho about the effect that this will have on all students."
And if the arts courses prove to be successful, Barnfield said he thinks more plaudits are in store.
"I firmly believe that Alston is a Palmetto's Finest award winner just waiting to happen," he said.