NOCCA Applies Artistic Lessons to Mainstream Education: Building Education from a Blank Canvas

What if you could build a school curriculum from the ground up with little or no bureaucratic limitations that hamper the effectiveness of many educational institutions? What if you were armed with the lessons learned from having successfully educated thousands of artists in a unique setting and could apply those lessons to a mainstream education program.

That’s exactly the challenge that NOCCA has been presented.

NOCCA refers to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, an advanced program for young prodigies of music and the arts for high school-aged youths in New Orleans. Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet, and Wendell Pierce are some of NOCCA’s esteemed graduates. Students who are accepted attend their traditional school in the morning and attend NOCCA in the afternoon, where they receive focused instruction in an artistically centered environment. For years, the faculty and staff of NOCCA have felt as though they could be more effective if they had the students in this environment all day…and that’s just the opportunity that they will have starting in 2011-12.

Dr. Robbie McHardy has been tasked with developing a traditional education program for NOCCA, but she is putting the “NOCCA DNA” into the curriculum. I attended NOCCA’s open studio day in November and was extremely impressed by their approach and by the opportunity that they have to be a model for other institutions. Here are some of the lessons from NOCCA’s artistic programs that will be staples of their academics:

1. Critique: NOCCA has determined that allowing students to receive feedback from their peers accelerates the learning process

2. Beginners Working Closely With Practicing Professionals: NOCCA will seek teachers who are passionate about their areas of expertise and models for their students

3. Teaching Attentiveness & Awareness: The key to learning is being aware of the learning opportunities around you

4. Individuality: NOCCA will spend a great deal of time doing assessments of their students early in the program to determine their strengths and interests, so that learning can be customized for their needs

5. Almost No Homework: While students will have long days at school (approx. 8:30 – 6:30), the concept is that free time should be spent relaxing and practicing their arts

6. Performance-focused: Though the academic studio will be rigorous and all students will have the same expectations of achievement that any school would require, there’s definitely a sense that teaching with a singular obsession toward passing tests is a flawed approach to education

Applicants for NOCCA must pass an audition, and they anticipate roughly 150-200 applications for only 60 spots in the full-day academic program in year one.

I wish Dr. McHardy and the faculty and students great success in the year ahead. Exciting times for a wonderful institution!

Here’s an overview of the academic studio from Dr. McHardy:

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