Throughout my high school career, I was blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in a myriad of extracurricular activities, ranging from Model UN, to musicals, to Youth in Government. While I did enjoy my time in each and every program, there was always one aspect of them that I absolutely hated:


Allow me to explain: Whenever a student participates in a YIG or MUN conference, almost always, the staff will require you to carry your name tag/badge at all times, to make sure that you’re supposed to be there, or for whatever other reason deemed important. In addition, whenever you’re called upon to speak at YIG, you always have to state your name and school.

The Red Senate at TN's Youth in Government Conference, April 2016

Soon enough, these rules grew to be the bane of my existence at any conference I went to not only because I despised carrying my name tag around, but because I dreaded that awkward conversation that was bound to happen at least once: me having to “explain” what my high school really was.

 Whenever people saw “CCA” or Center for Creative Arts,” they always assumed one of two things:

1. I attended Chattanooga Christian Academy.

2. I attended a school that was a real life version of Hollywood Arts From the hit TV show, Victorious.

Well guess what?: 

(GIF creds: Tumblr)

Unfortunately, the reaction I typically received after explaining what Center for Creative Arts (or CCA) was almost always a negative one  because people frequently seemed to think that my high school education was a joke. People thought that because my high school is in fact a performing arts high school, all I did was sing and dance all day long, and that my life was indeed, High School Musical.

Well dear reader, have a scorching cup of truth tea, because surprisingly enough, it wasn’t.

In fact, attending Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts was perhaps one of the most rigorous challenges I have ever faced in my eighteen years of existence, because I knew of no other students in the county that had to juggle eight year long classes (almost all of them being AP and Honors courses thank you very much), extracurricular activities, sleepless nights of homework, in addition to rehearsals and required performances. Thus, often times, my mornings looked a little like this: 

(GIF Greds: Tumblr)

Nonetheless, despite all of the hardships that came with going to CCA, I loved every single second of it.

Having been able to attend an institution that demands every ounce of academic energy and creativity that I have to offer did not only revolutionize who I am as a student, but as a citizen of the world.

Thus, I find it critical to share with the world the important life lessons and experiences that came with daring to attend a performing arts high school, and how crucial it is to continue funding arts program nationwide.

Lesson one: Courage

The cast of CCA's production of Shrek the Musical, Feb 2014

Growing up, I always had a passion for musical theatre. I would blast original broadway cast recordings in my room, and belt each and every note as if I were on the stage of the Nederlander Theatre. So naturally, upon arriving at CCA, I was very excited of the possibility of being in a musical myself. But to my surprise, the talent in the building was beyond comparison, and compared to them, I considered myself to be a potato. Had a dear friend not pressured me into being courageous and daring to audition for our production of Shrek, the Musical my sophomore year, I wouldn’t have the friends I have today, be brave enough to be myself, or dare to try something new

Lesson two: Patience

Suzi Dye in CCA's production of Lucky Stiff, as performed by the Choo Choo Kids

One stereotype that seems to come up quite often when the nature of my school is discussed is that our student body is more than likely to be full of drama queens and kings. Unfortunately, I could never forgive myself if I didn’t admit that there in fact some truth to this statement. Perhaps “drama queens and kings” might not be the best terminology to use, but my high school experience forced me to deal with a considerable amount of strong personalities, many which caused me a lot of stress, and I know I caused them stress as well. Nonetheless, working with these incredibly bright and strong willed people did not only give me the chance to mature faster than anyone else, but they taught me how to be a better person, and although they might not know it, I am thankful for them.

Lesson three: Discipline

CCA's Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of David Hoffecker- Spring Concert 2016

This past April, I was able to visit the University of Chicago campus and get a glimpse of what student life is like. What’s funny though, is that perhaps one of the most memorable moments of the trip is when my friends got upset with me for shushing them. Hear me out: we were at an RSO fair, which was basically the chance for various clubs to show off and convince us to join next year. There was a small showcase where various a cappella and dance clubs did a number or two, and at some point, my friends were talking and/or walking out in the middle of their performance, and lo and behold I shushed them and made them stay. Now, I didn’t do this because I wanted to necessarily stay, but because having grown up in an arts school taught me a distinct level of discipline and respect that no common student has. People think that the arts are just a means for people to joke around or play dress up, or sing show tunes in a giant circle, but in reality, it means long formal rehearsals, respect, and etiquette that sticks with you for many years to come.

Lesson four: Acceptance

The  diverse cast of CCA's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat- Feb 2016

I was born and raised in the Bible belt, surrounded by highly conservative beings. While I was lucky enough to start off my education experience in an accepting school, I cannot imagine imagine the person I would be if I had attended the public school I was zoned for. My education in the performing arts opened up my mind and allowed me to see past what we are expected to believe and do. My school taught its students that they should be accepting of other’s beliefs, opinions, and views, regardless of whether or not we agree with them. Without such an open-minded student body, I can only hope that I would have come to the same acceptance level that I maintain now. I am forever grateful that Center for Creative Arts opened my eyes, my mind, and my heart.

Lesson five: Professionalism

Senior moment at the Musical Theatre Showcase 2016

Majoring in Musical Theatre taught me a number of things, but most importantly, my director taught me the key of professionalism. Freshman year I was a deer and my teacher and his class were the headlights. I felt frozen to fear and I every time I had to perform I got sick from the nerves and the pressure I felt. While it sucked for the first year, I am so thankful for the lessons I learned from musical theatre. I learned to be prepared, time management, performance etiquette, how to write, how to properly audition, how to interview, how to write a resume, how to dress and act professionally, and so much more. While society expects Musical Theatre and the arts to be full of Jazz Squares and Fosse hands, in reality, the arts mean so much more. It really is a business and I learned more in my four years of Musical Theatre than I did in any other academic class.

Lesson six: Self-Confidence

Okay, so this one is a little obvious but it is so true. I came into school mortified I would not make any friends, get into any shows, or be able to pass my classes. The challenge of academics and arts allowed me to blossom into the student and performer I am today. As I grew and my musical theatre talents grew, I was able to feel good about myself. High school is still high school, with its many bumps along the road, but being able to perform on that stage with my best friends in the entire world by my side allowed me to feel comfortable in a way that I never thought would happen. 

 In addition to the many lessons that the arts taught me, it's important to note that research has indeed been conducted to back up the claim that the arts do have a significant impact on the development of students and their relationships with others. 

Harper Beeland, a creative writing major at CCA who will be attending Kenyon College in the fall of 2016

Harper Beeland, a member of the class of 2016 at CCA conducted a senior research project on the importance of creative writing discovered that "the unique depth and angles involved in creative writing extract a high degree of empathy from writers, which is instrumental in improving their ability to form meaningful relationships with others." In addition, Harper found that "when given the opportunity to write about their own lives, students unearth parts of themselves that would remain mostly invisible otherwise."

Kenzie Hammond, a strings major at CCA 

At the same time, Kenzie Hammond, another member of the class of 2016 at CCA conducted her research project on the importance of music education, found that "Learning music is important in its connection to reading and language, seeing as both use the same parts of the brain and have three things in common: pitch, timing, and timbre."  She also hopes to help people realize that music education  is important not only because of its benefits but because "people enjoy it, it brings happiness, and because it is a tool to help the human mind grow." 

So, despite what anyone may tell you, the arts are truly one of the most powerful tools in any educator's arsenal. Whether it may be through a simple song, or silly dance, the arts have the capacity of teaching anyone and everyone an array of important and powerful lessons. I know that without the arts in my life, I probably wouldn't be half the person that I am today. So, what now? What can YOU, a mere student or educator do to ensure that students continue to reach their full potential? 

Well, Speak up! Tell your administrators, boards of educations, teachers, superintendents  friends, family, each and every person that you can! Because if we don't speak up and fight for the right to partake in the arts, not only will the students of America miss out on one of the best methods of learning, but on a craft that can teach one more than one could ever imagine. And remember, success is only a buffalo step away. 

Lead image credits: Moises Rodriguez Cruz

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