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Integrating the Artistic and the Academic in San Francisco

by Epoch Times
08-18-2011

SAN FRANCISCO—The Fei Tian Academy of the Arts in San Francisco has a lot to be proud of: In a little more than a year since its establishment in March 2010, the San Francisco branch of the New York-based institution for training in Chinese traditional arts has shown itself to be a formidable school of both academic and artistic strength.

This past June, Fei Tian students scored in the top 10 percentile of the nation on the ACT Explore and Plan tests (assessment exams for 9th and 10th graders in English, math, reading, and science), with roughly a third of the student body scoring at or above the top one percentile.

One month prior, students from Fei Tian won the top three prizes in the short story category of the city’s 25-year-old literature competition “Young At Art.”

Fei Tian provides a middle- and high-school curriculum for students from grades 6 to 12. Aside from its comprehensive academic program, Fei Tian provides extensive education in classical Chinese arts—first with dance, while music and fine arts will be added to the curriculum this fall.

In its report about Fei Tian Academy, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, one of the six regional associations that accredits public and private educational institutions in the country, noted that Fei Tian provides a unique and much needed educational option for both students in California and from abroad.

Rooted in Tradition

The academy’s website states: “The 5,000 years of Chinese culture are full of stories, legends, and values such as honesty, tolerance, respect and benevolence. Studying traditional arts not only helps build up students’ character but also their capabilities in learning academic subjects as they become more focused and self-disciplined.”

Cao Fengxuan, the principal of Fei Tian California, said that the students’ academic success is due largely to their training in the traditional arts. It helps students improve their concentration and develop their character.

“A person who possesses great concentration is more efficient, because he or she is able to focus time, effort, and intelligence on the task at hand,” she said in an interview with The Epoch Times. “It’s natural that Fei Tian students received high ACT scores this year.”

Cao said that the students at Fei Tian have also matured greatly in the arts within a short period of time. Within a year since the school’s establishment, they have already been invited to participate in two large-scale community performances.

Every day, students participate in three hours of training in their chosen arts major. High school freshman Angeline said that although dance practice can be tiring at times, it refreshes her mentally and helps to relieve stress, thus allowing her mind to focus better when studying.

Caring Environment

Lona Lou, director of academic programs at Fei Tian California, sees other contributing factors to the students’ excellent test results besides the school’s focus on traditional arts. “We have small class sizes so each student gets full attention from teachers,” Lou wrote in an email interview. “Our environment is very positive, and students are self-motivated.”

Student Angeline said that her teachers at Fei Tian care deeply about their students. Most importantly, the teachers are patient and help the students to establish good learning foundations.

Lou sees her role as academic director as a way to support students’ efforts: “My role is a service provider for students’ learning. For example, one of our students was weak at math. Then, we arranged a tutor for her every Friday. After one year, she [could] catch up and got good scores in this ACT test.”

When asked about the reasons why Fei Tian students excelled in the academics, Lawrence Zheng, dance teacher, said about the teachers in the academic department: “The main thing for the teacher to do is to use all approaches to make the student understand what you are trying to teach. That’s the main thing. It is not just throwing knowledge at the student.”

Principal Cao also expressed that exposure to a friendly and encouraging learning environment helps to cultivate curious, bright minds.

Angeline noted that her Fei Tian teachers prohibited students from practicing bad habits like swearing, in stark contrast to the teachers at her former school, who didn’t make the effort to discipline the students’ moral behavior.

Developing Self-Discipline

While external factors like traditional training, individualized attention, and a positive environment can contribute to the students’ achievements, the most critical factor is still the students’ own attitude and dedication.

School counselor Lee Randazzo, who also teaches English and social studies, said that the artistic training provided by Fei Tian will enable students to develop a habit of constant self-improvement. When faced with dilemmas in the workplace or in daily life, people tend to seek help externally. Fei Tian students, however, know to look within themselves and learn from past mistakes, which can inform their current decisions.

“It’s a development of self-discipline and motivation,” Randazzo said. “When you train in a traditional art, it helps you in academic pursuits. If you become a master in one art, you become a master in many.”

What Fei Tian Teachers Say About Their School

I think that the arts tend to help students develop different ways of thinking that allows them to do better in academics. You know, growing up, I always heard about … [how] students who study music will be able to think in ways that allow them to excel academically. And I think that’s true of all the artistic disciplines, whether they are in fine arts, in music, [or] in dance.

— Beth Lambert, English and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher

Math in Chinese is not just the computation. It is part of the understanding of the universe … that inspires every kid and—myself.

— Ray Chen, math teacher

Students are welcome to come visit our school. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

— Lee Randazzo, English and social studies teacher

Read more: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/60533/99999999/1/1/

Picture information: Fei Tian Academy of the Arts students and some teachers participated in a community event in front of San Francisco’s City Hall, giving a taste of what classical Chinese dance is about.

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