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Long IslandEducation

State Board of Regents allows arts students to earn specialty diplomas

Amari Dechinea, 16, of Uniondale, plays the cello

Amari Dechinea, 16, of Uniondale, plays the cello during the Long Island High School for the Arts annual open house in Syosset on Wednesday evening, Dec. 2, 2015, where parents toured classrooms and watched stage performances. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

High-school students taking advanced courses in the fine and performing arts gained their first opportunity to earn diplomas focused on those specialties Tuesday by unanimous vote of the state’s Board of Regents.

The new arts “pathway” to a diploma begins this school year for teens who pass college-level Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams in appropriate subjects. Those include studio art, design, drawing, music, music theory, dance, theater and visual arts.

Students who complete high-school courses in those subjects, coupled with exams, will be exempted from some of the state’s other graduation requirements in social studies.

Advocates of the “pathways” approach regard the Regents’ latest action as a major step in recognizing school arts programs, which have tended to be eclipsed by a recent push for stronger studies in science and math.

“For New York State, it’s especially important, “ said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the Regents board. “We have a tremendous number of people who, A, go into the arts as a profession and, B, as an avocation — as theatergoers and the like.”

Tilles is co-chair of an advisory commission on the arts, which outlined its recommendations to Regents on Monday.

The Regents board Tuesday approved the first step outlined in those recommendations: accepting Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams as evidence of diploma-level achievement in the arts.

Allowing students to substitute a concentration of arts courses for other graduation requirements is part of a broader effort to encourage more teens to pursue their interests and finish high school.

In January, the Regents approved multiple “pathway” programs, allowing students to earn diploma credits by completing sequences of academic and occupational courses in subjects ranging from computer science to cosmetology. One requirement is that such studies include a state-approved exam — for example, a test certifying that students have mastered specific job skills.

As part of January’s agreement, students completing specialized course sequences won exemptions from having to pass one of five academic Regents exams usually required for graduation. Such students can skip exams in either American History and Government or Global History.

The Regents’ Blue Ribbon Commission for the Arts — 55 educators and artists from across the state — began its work in July. Panel members view the Regents’ vote Tuesday as the first of a series of steps needed to strengthen arts education statewide.

Ideally, panelists said, the state will upgrade its current curriculum guidelines to establish comprehensive school programs in art and music from preschool through 12th grade. Panelists also are exploring more innovative ways for students to earn graduation credit.

One idea under discussion would grant credit to teens attending the annual New York State Summer School of the Arts. The program provides four weeks of intensive training in ballet, chorus, theater and other subjects.

On the Island, arts fans recently got a jarring reminder of just how vulnerable such programs can be. Authorities at Nassau BOCES announced last month that their regional Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset, after 42 years in operation, faced potential closure due to shrinking enrollment and tuition revenue.

The arts school and an adjacent center for science instruction later got a temporary reprieve. Now school administrators and parents of students enrolled there are scrambling to raise extra funds and boost enrollment.

Dawn Lesser, a Massapequa mother with a 12th grader studying drama at the BOCES arts school, voiced hope that the Regents’ move would encourage more students to attend such programs.

“If a student is dedicated enough to want to pursue a career in a field this difficult, then I think they should be given support,” Lesser said.

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