by Julia Queller
The inaugural class of the Union County Academy for Performing Arts, a specialized school that offers an alternative educational route for students interested in pursuing performing arts, will graduate at the end of this school year.
A number of Westfield students qualified academically and auditioned in 2008 to comprise APA’s first 50-person class, according to ucvts.tec.nj.us.
As the newest academy in the Union County Vocational-Technical system, APA provides a rigorous academic curriculum as well as intensive study in performing arts. Students identify as either a Theater Arts or Dance major, according to ucvts.tec.nj.us.
Senior Amie Diamond, a Westfield resident, said: "I wanted to go to APA because, plain and simple, I love to dance. I think it’s so cool to go to a school where I can do what I love every single day."
She added, "I think it’s awesome that everyone in the school loves to dance too or is equally as passionate about theater."
Another Westfield resident, senior Maggie Fox, said: "APA gave me the opportunity to incorporate dance with my academics."
Because APA was a new academy, students who attended RIS and EIS made the decision in eighth grade to enroll in APA without a firm understanding of what it would be like, which resulted in differing experiences.
Said Diamond: "Going into APA I actually had no idea what to expect besides dance classes and academic courses. I think APA wound up being better than my expectations."
Senior Samantha Furst, a Westfield resident said, "If you think coming to APA is going to be like Victorious, remember that that is Hollywood, and there is actual work to be done [here]."
Due to the focus provided by the small class size, APA offers many opportunities to its students that a public school would be unable to.
According to Diamond, through APA, she had "the opportunity to dance with professional dance companies, perform at PNC Bank Arts Center and learn from world-renowned teachers."
However, students recognize that attending APA comes with some difficulties.
Said Fox, "You have to be committed to dance and... you will be leaving the friends you have been with since elementary school behind."
Diamond said that the greatest advantage of being in APA’s first class was the ability to shape the school and set precedents for all classes to follow.
After studying for three years at APA, according to ucvts.tec.nj.us, "all students spend their high school senior year at Kean University taking a full freshman college course load, which includes a concentration in their performing arts major."
Diamond said, "I think [studying at Kean] is a really cool opportunity, but at the same time I miss the normal high school senior year."
Said Fox: "It is great being on a college campus and I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity. For students who plan on staying at Kean and majoring in performing arts, they will have completed their freshman year of college."
Experiences with APA have influenced students’ decisions about continuing studies in the performing arts field.
"After researching and contemplating, I decided that the life of a dancer is not for me; however, many dancers from the program will be going on to become professional dancers," said Diamond.
Said Fox, "I plan to keep dance a part of my life for as long as I can."
Furst said that APA only broadened her appreciation for theater, and that its creative environment has given her "room to grow as myself, and only myself."
"I would recommend enrolling in APA to enthusiastic, hardworking eighth graders that love to dance, sing or act," said Diamond.
Fox said: "I feel honored and proud to be a member of the first graduating class. The district has developed a wonderful and unique program."