BY ROSANNA LANDIS WEAVER — There are formalities to be resolved and approvals to be granted, but it appears that Hyattsville’s new, as-yet-unnamed elementary school may be the first in the county with an emphasis on arts education. The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) budget, introduced by school system CEO Kevin Maxwell in December, included funding for “a new arts program at the Hyattsville Area Elementary School.”
The creative and performing arts theme of the school, opening this fall in West Hyattsville, was a primary focus of the PGCPS forum on “Boundary, Grade & Program Improvements” held at Nicholas Orem Middle School on December 17. While Director of Public Accounting and School Boundaries Johndel Jones-Brown made it clear that this and other changes are proposed, not yet adopted or approved, it appears likely that the school will offer unique opportunities to area students
Some area children could have the opportunity for an emphasis on performing arts to run through graduation. Hyattsville Middle School is currently an arts magnet school and Northwestern High School began its official Visual and Performing Arts Academy in August.
Participants at the meeting applauded the performing arts focus, with several noting the benefits in academic performance that can be associated with such an emphasis. More controversial are likely to be the as-yet-undecided boundaries. A committee of representatives from several adjacent schools has met with county officials to discuss what the “potential walk zone” might be.
Several parents at the meeting raised questions about transportation safety, as some children who live quite close to the school might be required to cross East-West Highway’s six lanes of traffic if buses are not provided for them. Also raised was the more general issue of how planned development is considered when assessing boundary changes.
Maxwell, who did not attend the meeting, will issue recommendations with a specific proposal on boundaries on January 17. There will be a public hearing on February 4 and a school-board vote on February 13.
Sixth graders moving to middle schools
At the meeting officials announced plans to continue a transition of adding sixth graders to junior high. Last year the sixth grade from Hyattsville Elementary joined Hyattsville Middle School. In 2014, the proposal calls for sixth graders from Thomas Stone and Chillum elementary schools to join them.
Officials reported that incorporating sixth graders into middle school allows for expanded electives, content specialization and advanced mathematics. Studies suggest positive performance differences for students who spend two rather than three years in middle schools Jones also noted the pragmatic reasons for the change, including the fact that for the short term such a change is “the only way we can offer any relief” to severe overcrowding at elementary schools such as Stone.
Spanish immersion school to come
During the meeting, school officials also shared the news that the school system is exploring opening three Spanish immersion programs in the county, and have made a preliminary decision that Cesar Chavez elementary, located at 6609 Riggs Road, will be one of the potential sites. Unlike a theme school, such as the proposed arts school, which serves only its neighborhood, admission to specialty programs are generally driven by lottery.