Wouldn't it be amazing if there were a high school where the dreams and talents of each student are nurtured, where teachers are considered by many as beloved mentors, where staff, faculty and students think of their time together as a daily highlight?
"It is amazing ... both the kids and teachers are here because they want to be," said professional musician and educator Anthony DeQuattro, as he walked through the halls of the Regional Center for the Arts in Trumbull on a recent weekday.
DeQuattro, who recently received a doctorate in music education from Boston University, is chair of the school's music department. During a tour of the handsome state-of-the art $21 million campus, which opened in 2007, DeQuattro pointed out that RCA is a part-time, interdistrict magnet high school for Fairfield County students, offering instruction from 1:30 to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday in music, acting, musical theater, dance and creative video production.
Admission is by audition and open to a maximum of 250 students from school districts in Bridgeport, Darien, Easton/Region No. 9, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, Norwalk, Ridgefield, Shelton, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport and Wilton. All are bused to the school, which is on the border of Bridgeport and Trumbull, at the conclusion of classes at their home high schools. Academic credit is given for all RCA courses. Funding for each child comes from the state of Connecticut and individual school districts.
RCA -- for many years in Bridgeport -- was founded in 1990 by the superintendents of education from Bridgeport, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull to provide arts education to talented students while promoting a diverse student body. In 1993, Cooperative Educational Services was brought in to administer RCA for the area school districts.
"The experience was so beneficial, especially in the area of time management -- going to both a regular high school and coming here is a great deal of work," she said during a recent visit to the school. "But there are extraordinary mentors here" who helped along the way. "As I look back, I realize just how much I did grow at RCA as a musician -- and as a person."
New Canaan jazz vocalist Elaine Rojas, 18, who is headed to Berklee in the fall, put it this way: "If this is what you want ... to nurture and develop your craft, surrounded by peers, then RCA is the place to be. And if I amount to anything in the arts, it will be because of RCA."
"The RCA music department is a family and the RCA students know that the faculty is there for them 24/7/365," said DeQuattro. "As the students begin to try to navigate through the thick forest of college applications, auditions and, ultimately, decisions, they know the RCA faculty is there to be their mentors, their counselors and their guides. Lifelong bonds are formed at RCA and graduates of the program routinely visit the school and keep in touch with the faculty."
The music faculty, DeQuattro said, "are established in the Connecticut music scene and are active performers. And we use the connections we have forged in our careers to better serve the students. We routinely bring guest speakers into the school to talk with the students about the music business and the tools needed to succeed in the music business."
Recent guest speakers have included renowned classical/rock violinist Alexander Markov; Saakumu Drumming and Dance Troupe from Medie, Ghana; John Thomas, of the Quinnipiac University Law School; David Budries, of the Yale School of Drama; Susan Spaulding, from the Hartt School of music; and T.D. Ellis, of the Music Source publishing house.
DeQuattro, principal percussionist with the Greater Bridgeport Symphony, said that included in the yearly schedule for all students are numerous opportunities to perform in their given area -- donating their time at community venues and in RCA productions. Recently, students hosted the Spring Jazz Concert at the 250-seat RCA theater.
Jazz singer Amanda Cepero, 17, a junior at Central High School in Bridgeport, said, "RCA is definitely my second home. Besides great teachers, the experiences in performing with so many talented people has helped me to grow so much."
For DeQuattro, teaching at RCA is a labor of love and lots of fun. Even school director/principal Dr. Mark Ribbens, a former bass player with the Greater Bridgeport Symphony, agrees with that assessment: "It can be challenging, but it's fun ... so rewarding."
As an example of how much fun it can be, DeQuattro pointed out that earlier this month three of his jazz groups competed in an event for high school musicians at Six Flags New England in Agawam, Mass., and won first, second and third place in their respective categories.
"I love this place," Gabe said. "The relationship between students and teachers is amazing. We're a tight-knit group that comes here to have musical experiences in a communal setting. There's no competition among us."
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