The high school, also known as PPAS, serves nearly 500 students who dream of pursuing dance, drama, music, or musical theater. Students in grades six through twelve split their days between academic instruction — when they can enroll in Advanced Placement courses or earn college credit through partnerships with New York University, Fordham University, and others — and arts instruction.
As one of more than 400 high schools in New York City, PPAS offers students the opportunity to partner with some of the foremost programs in the city, like the Ailey School, the National Chorale, the Julliard School, the American Ballet Theatre and Rosie’s Theater Kids.
These partnerships were a fundamental reason why, when 10th-grader Ani Mskhiladze set out to choose her high school, she auditioned for PPAS. Ani always loved singing and performing – in fact, she attended an arts-based middle school — but the school’s tight, close-knit student body made the choice clear.
“I get to be surrounded by people that love the same things that I love doing,” Ani said. “Being able to experience everyone’s amazing talents — and learn and benefit from them, too — this is an opportunity that many will not have the chance to experience.”
Ani has been able to sing at a world class venue – the famed Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts – four times during the school year – an opportunity she may have never had without the support of PPAS.
For students like Ani and so many others, the school is more than just a stepping stone on the way to a career in the arts – it’s a safe haven. Students who were labelled as “different” at other schools – some even being bullied – for their love of the arts have found a home at PPAS.
“I was miserable and unhappy in elementary school,” Josiah Fluker-McInnis, who also attends PPAS, said. He was bullied for his interest in singing and dancing.
But at PPAS, he finds encouragement – not resistance – from classmates and teachers. And, he’s constantly inspired by others pursuing his future career – even occasionally running into a Broadway star or fellow performer on the street.
“In my current school, you have to audition to get in, so most of us are doing what we really want to do,” Josiah said. “The dancers choose dance, the singers choose vocal, the actors choose drama. And people like me, who like to sing, act and dance, choose music theater.”
Josiah is also expanding his horizons beyond the core arts and academic curricula, as a member of the photography club and the school newspaper.
Fellow photography club member Hannah Peterson also struggled before auditioning for, and enrolling in, PPAS. She came to New York City in 8th grade, from the much-smaller community of Charleston, West Virginia. During middle school, she, too, was often bullied – for both her “new kid” status, and for her love of the arts.
All that changed at PPAS. Hannah, who dreams of performing on Broadway, found great supporters and friends at her high school – in a safe, welcoming environment.
“I love waking up every morning knowing that I am going to PPAS,” Hannah said.
For students like Hannah – and classmates Ani and Josiah — the choice to attend PPAS forever changed the high school experience. There, they have opportunities to partner with world-renowned programs and perform at world-class venues. They learn from teachers who are experts in their fields, in classes filled with students who – like them – want to be there.
For these students, the Professional Performing Arts School just “fits.”
“Choose a school that will push you to become a better person,” Hannah said, when asked about what “school choice” has meant to her. “Never take for granted your choice, because many students in the world don’t get a choice.”
Note: This is a post in our #RethinkSchool series. The series features innovative schools and stories from students, parents and educators highlighting efforts across the United States to rethink school. Check back on Thursdays for new posts in the series. The #RethinkSchool series presents examples of approaches schools, educators, families and others are using to rethink school in their individual and unique circumstances. Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The Department of Education does not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.