Wayland upgrades AFA program

PLAINVIEW - Dedication, commitment, accountability. Those were three areas determined to need improvement when Wayland Baptist University evaluated its Academy of Fine Arts program.

AFA, a program designed to teach kids the joys of music, theatre and art, has undergone a major overhaul in an attempt to make the program more enjoyable, more accessible and better for all of those involved.

"We have made a lot of changes," said AFA Co-Director Tisa Whitfill.

One major change that has been addressed is in how students and parents are greeted when they arrive for a lesson. The Wheeler Building, which at times appears as more of a utility barn or maintenance shed for the university, hasn't always been the most inviting place for parents to leave their children. Whitfill said one change to the AFA program is to make sure someone is at the door to greet the parents and child.

"We will have someone open the door and greet every child and wave at the mother," Whitfill said. "If for some reason the teacher hasn't arrived, that person will take the student into the library and they will play a music game

"Kids will never be there without somebody from AFA on-site," she added. "Thinking about it as a parent, it will be a safe, welcome environment for the child that their parents can feel good about."

Whitfill also said those teaching the classes will be held more accountable. Wayland students teach the AFA classes and in the past haven't been overly diligent about making sure they were at the scheduled appointments or contacting the parents or students when they couldn't make the lesson. That has also changed. Whitfill said each WBU student teaching a class has been assigned a faculty mentor. If the teacher misses two appointments, the faculty mentor will take over the student's private lessons until a replacement teacher can be found.

The AFA has also taken extra steps to secure up-to-date contact information in the form of email addresses and cell phone numbers with which a parent can be notified if a teacher needs to reschedule the class.

Not only has the program been restructured, but the building has been remodeled to make it more pleasant and inviting to the students.

"We have taken some time to clean it out and our art students have gone over and decorated the rooms," Whitfill said. "It is going to be very child friendly. We are buying big pillows and bean bags for the kids to sit on and it is going to be very comfortable."

The AFA also has a library of music, games and books that is now accessible to the students.

Whitfill is hoping to see the program grow by adding more group lessons as well as increasing subjects offered to individual students.

"We have the teachers," she said. "Right now we have more teachers than students."

AFA offers individual lesson on any band instrument and several string instruments. The Academy also has teachers willing to teach art, creative dramatics and even handbells.

"Every parent thinks their child can act - and they can," Whitfill said. "Any kid can play a handbell. Every child loves to draw."

The cost to enroll is $50 a month for private lessons and $25 for group lessons. Parents with more than one child in a group will get a price break of $10 for the second child and $5 for the third. Four or more are free. All lessons are one hour a week.

The AFA will provide the supplies and find places for artists to perform other than the semester-ending festival.

"We are not going to work all year and just do one thing," Whitfill said. "We are going to find places for the students to perform during the semester. What's a performance class if you are not performing?"

For more information, contact Whitfill at 291-1080.