Published in the Osceola News-Gazette- Around Osceola on Friday, April 1, 2016.
The performing arts are alive and well in Osceola County’s schools.
That is an observation and reflection at many levels. Ask music students, such as the trio from Osceola County School for the Arts — senior trombonist Tyler Bonilla, senior vibraphonist Jacob Britton and sophomore trumpeter Eric Gonzalez — who were selected to represent Florida in the Music for All’s 2016 Jazz Band of America, one of the nation’s finest honor assemblies.
Ask the county’s top administrators, who in the last decade couldn’t afford to staff a fine arts lead administrator.
Or ask Debbie Fahmie, who for the last eight years has been the district’s performing arts resource specialist.
The Florida Music Educators Association (FMEA) named Fahmie its 2016 FMEA Leadership Award recipient, for her contribution to music education throughout the state, for her notable achievements as a leader in the promotion of music education, and for her continued commitment to the profession.
Fahmie spent 18 years teaching music at Cypress Elementary before getting the call to fill the district’s performing arts resource specialist, one that had been eliminated, but revived in 2008 under former Superintendent Michael Grego.
It was that action, Fahmie said, that set in motion a decade of increasing fine arts participation and the recognition of the county’s top talent.
“Dr. Grego brought this vision, and it had a wide effect that he cared so much,” Fahmie said. “That attitude must come from the top, that the district wants kids to have a quality arts education.”
She said that vision trickles down to the county’s principals, which is where she comes in, working with them to recruit and retain outstanding arts teachers.
“That’s the key: finding those dynamic teachers who work so well with students,” Fahmie said.
Well, something is working. Student participation in the arts across the Osceola School District has increased by 51 percent since she moved to the district office, and that doesn’t happen by just counting the district’s most talented artists. That comes from counting the students who want to study another academic subject, engineering or business for instance, who like to play the flute, act in the play or sing in the chorus as a fun hobby.
“We’re very data-driven now, and it shows being in an arts class helps in other things in a student’s life, like GPA and test scores,” Fahmie said. “Performers getting named to the All-State Ensemble, for instance, are coming out of all our schools, not just School for the Arts. We had the drama troupe from Liberty High earn a place with the state
With programs being added and participation increasing at such a rate in the county — the curriculum now includes band and orchestra, chorus, elementary music, visual arts, dance and drama — the district recently added a second fine and performing arts specialist, Pamela Haas. There’s no proof the district simply cloned Fahmie, but …
“When she was introduced she said, ‘Hi, I’m Debbie Fahmie Two,’” Fahmie joked. “I just couldn’t keep up. As programs started and we were adding events, there’d be two or three things going on at the same time.”
Over the past six or seven years, Osceola County students have gone on to the top performance arts schools in the nation, such as Juliard and Eastman School of Music, she said.
“Again, I go back to our upper-level administration,” said Fahmie, who also has served on boards of many state arts education organizations, still serves with the FMEA and is a UCF adjunct professor. “They’ve really helped make it possible for our best arts students to have what they need to succeed.”