Looking Forward: Academics at Interlochen Arts Academy

Over the next year, arts directors from Interlochen will share their vision for the future of their discipline. This is the third of the series and will focus on the future of academics at the Arts Academy. Edward Farraday has been the Vice President of Education Programs at Interlochen Center for the Arts since June 2008. Prior to coming to Interlochen, Mr. Farraday spent ten years as director of the Upper School at Miami Country Day School. Previously, he served as academic dean at the Walnut Hill School in Massachusetts and as director of academic affairs at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans.

For the past fifty years, Interlochen Arts Academy has provided a strong academic program complementing the highly specialized and rigorous artistic training offered to students from all over the world. The academic offerings in the humanities, math and science are designed to provide students with the background necessary to apply to the best colleges and universities in the United States. A core of college preparatory courses expands at the upper levels where specialized elective courses in English, history and science as well as advanced courses in foreign language and math are available. While traditional in the general nature of its offerings, the academic program remains extremely flexible in order to meet the needs of the wide variety of backgrounds of students who enter the Academy. New Academy students enter at every grade level and come from very different schools as well as home schooling settings. The diverse experiences and backgrounds of Academy students are a strength of the school but create the necessity for the academic offerings to respond to a wide variety of needs while preparing students in a relatively short period of time.

As in other schools across the country and the world, technological resources are starting to play an increasingly important role in expanding the tools available to teachers and students. Starting this fall, Interlochen Arts Academy will have a 1:1 laptop program in which all students will be required to have their own laptop with them for daily use in their classes. Students have been using computers for years now as a means of obtaining information and producing work. This laptop program means that both students and teachers will have the incredible resources offered by technology available in every class each day. Opportunities for individualized learning, for new methods of assessment and for developing the skills of technological literacy will be increased. The combination of the new technological infrastructure at Interlochen combined with the laptop program provides opportunities students never had before to broaden, strengthen and deepen their academic experience. Teachers in all disciplines across the country are looking at new ways to organize their classes and communicate with students as a result of technological advances. Moving resources, curriculum, and even assessments onto a digital platform (ASPEN) also allows our students to access material and keep up with their studies when they are off campus. This is something that Interlochen Arts Academy must do not only to stay relevant in the world of education but also to fulfill its responsibility as an educational institution preparing students who are technologically literate.

Another important part of both the academic and artistic educational program at the Arts Academy is interdisciplinary work and collaboration between and among teachers. While those efforts have always been present in the program, we will now have an Intermester Program during the two weeks between first and second semester when faculty will have the opportunity to offer a wide variety of short courses on topics and areas that are not otherwise present in the curriculum. This program encourages teachers to work together to develop new courses, to cross disciplines and to create new opportunities for learning for students. Not only is this an excellent opportunity for teachers to work together, but it encourages the creation of courses where students can see how subjects they have experienced separately come together. One of the most important and often overlooked goals of a good education is to help students see how areas of study are related. The world is a place of connections and relations rather than just a series of academic or arts silos, each existing in a world unrelated to the other.

In our continuing efforts to offer increased educational opportunities that will expose students to the world at large as part of their educational background, we have initiated two international exchange programs. This year a group of students from the Arts Academy spent ten days at the School of the Arts Singapore as the first step toward building an ongoing exchange program with that school. At the same time, a group of students from the Shanghai Conservatory Middle School (equivalent of our high school level) came to Interlochen to interact and learn with our students. Both of these programs will continue in the coming years with groups of students, as well as faculty, going back and forth to share learning, teaching and culture. There are already plans to expand the offerings of exchange programs with a school in India and one in Australia. These opportunities provide a balance to the geographically isolated nature of the program. It is important that we offer great learning experiences both within and without our campus in a world that is becoming increasingly connected and increasingly dependent on the ability of people to understand each other and work together.

It is the goal of the academic program at the Arts Academy to provide the fundamental academic skills and content that will prepare every graduate to go on to higher learning in the institution of his or her choice. The program must remain flexible in order to meet the needs of individual students as well as the changes in content that are the result of our ever changing and expanding world. While the relationships formed between teacher and student remain key to successful educational experiences, the role of the teacher is changing as the old boundaries of time and place for learning disintegrate, and the availability of information explodes. In order to remain viable and to provide students with the best education possible, the academic program, as well as the arts programs, must respond to these changes. Innovation and collaboration will be key to the future success of our program. The addition of technological tools, exchange programs, interdisciplinary courses, and flexible academic offerings are just a few of the key steps toward ensuring that we remain a leader in education.