Students, staff, teachers, parents, alumni, Marietta City Schools administrators and city officials gathered Thursday for an open house and ribbon-cutting at Hickory Hills. The school showed off roughly $1.97 million worth of renovations, paid for out of the second Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which voters approved in September 2003.
SPLOST is a one-cent sales tax on every retail dollar spent in Cobb. Proceeds go toward construction and technology in Cobb and Marietta public schools.
Thursday's event was free to the public and included tours of the new facilities.
Marietta City Schools Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck told the sizeable crowd, "What's really remarkable is what's happening in the building. It's an arts-integration program where teachers are practicing the art of teaching and students are learning the art of learning."
Hickory Hills became an integrated-arts school in 2008. Similar to a magnet school, Hickory Hills' integrated-arts program provides approximately 370 kindergarteners through fifth-grade students a comprehensive, sequential academic program that incorporates the performing and visual arts in the teaching of core courses. Teachers use the arts to educate students in a variety of subjects, from mathematics to social studies, Principal Diana Mills said.
The renovations - completed last spring - include a 9,200-square-foot arts gallery with donated and loaned art work, as well as music, drama, dance and arts rooms. Four new classrooms, totaling 4,300 square feet, were also constructed at the school as part of the project.
"All of our arts teachers integrate the curriculum into their lessons," said Dollie Bresheras, assistant principal. "For instance in drama, the students might act out certain things and then they might write their own play or drama. And then our classroom teachers also do the same thing. They've been trained over the last couple of years through ArtsNow."
Pamela Millice, executive director of Atlanta-based ArtsNow, said the work that goes on at Hickory Hills is known nationwide because it's part of a national music and education consortium that learns weekly how art is integrated with classroom instruction.
On Wednesday, music teacher Danny Echols taught third-graders fractions using musical notes since both share common language, he said.
It's not difficult integrating the arts in the classroom because they tend to overlap anyway, Echols said.
"Most of the teachers have been doing this for years," he said. "Now it's more intentional with a purpose and more coordinated even."
Students such as fifth-grader Alex Spillman, 11, said they were excited about the new spaces. He said his favorite class is drama.
"I've been acting ever since I was in first grade," he said.
Peter and Jana Chesney's 6-year-old daughter, Ella, is a Hickory Hills kindergartener. The couple has two younger children who will likely attend the school in a few years. They said they have been "very impressed" with the integrated arts program.
"Our expectation is that they will learn quicker," Jana Chesney said. "Studies of the program that has been implemented around the country show they retain information longer. The whole method of teaching as I understand is set up to reach multiple ways a child learn."
For former Marietta architect Sidney Clotfelter, who built the original Hickory Hills school building, the event was touching. The 96-year-old attended the open house and said he was glad he could witness the new addition to his work.