January 23rd, 2020

SC Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities: Much Has Changed but Some Has Not

When Virginia Uldrick started the Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities 40 years ago, it was a five-week summer program for young artists in South Carolina.

Now, it has consistently been one of the top high schools in the state, hovering near a 100% graduation rate every year.

Its graduates have been accepted into every Ivy League school in the country, according to school officials, and one who has reached worldwide fame starred as Taystee in “Orange is the New Black.”

SC Governor’s School alumni: Famous actors, dancers, musicians and more

Students and faculty credit that success to the school’s culture, which all started with Uldrick.

The residential high school first opened doors in Greenville in 1999 after Uldrick lobbied state legislators for more than a decade for a year-round high school focused

The public school is open to about 250 students in 10th through 12th grades across South Carolina who audition for one of the school’s five art subjects — creative writing, dance, drama, music and visual arts.

Uldrick’s mission for the Governor’s School — to provide students with the best arts education a high school can offer — has remained a core part of the school even after her death in 2017 and is why it’s so successful, said Scott Gould, chair of the school’s creative writing department.

“The mission is so pure — to somehow find these kids all over the state who have these passions, get them to one place and give them the best kind of instruction you can,” Gould said.

Jennifer Thomas, who was a teacher at the school in 1999 and is now the dean of students, said the early days of the school were chaotic and exciting. Residence halls were complete when the school opened — but there weren’t any classrooms.

“In the first year, we had classes all over Greenville, including at the Greenville Zoo,” Thomas said. “We didn’t have the structures and the kind of procedures that we have now, but we had a ton of energy and excitement.”

The energy and camaraderie among teachers and students is still there, Thomas said.

“That’s still palpable. Even if there aren’t as many of us around who started in the 20th year, there are an awful lot of (teachers) who came in those first few years who are still here or are still in touch with the school,” Thomas said.

While some aspects of arts education has changed over the years — new technology such as 3D printers and the rise in electronically created music — the school’s teaching methods and standards have largely remained the same.

In January, the school will open a new music building — its biggest expansion since the school opened.

“I’m not teaching my kids the same contemporary prose now that I was teaching in the ’80s,” Gould said. “The tools you use change, but the goal and the mission is always going to be the same.”

All arts faculty are also practicing artists, which Gould says is key to building respect and relationships with the students.

“It’s important for students to see me trying to do the same thing they’re doing, failing the same ways they fail, pushing beyond that the same way I want them to push beyond it,” Gould said. “I let them know when I’ve been rejected, which is quite often, and I let them know when I’m having trouble writing something.”

Source: Greenville News