Center for the Fine and Performing Arts: Nurturing, Showcasing Student Talent

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By Helena Tavares Kennedy

Woodbridge Senior High School English and creative writing teacher Cathy Hailey sparks creativity in her CFPA students.

Woodbridge Senior High School English and creative writing teacher Cathy Hailey sparks creativity in her CFPA students.

The popular ’80s movie and television series “Fame” and the 2009 movie remake include images of teens performing amazing numbers on stage and in school hallways, expressing their emotions through song, dance, music and writing. Did you know that Prince William has its own version of the “Fame” school?

The Center for the Fine and Performing Arts (CFPA) is a four- year arts specialty program housed at Woodbridge Senior High School in Lake Ridge, where the center was established in September 2001. The program is slated to move to Prince William County’s newest high school when it opens in Nokesville in 2016.

The vision for the center is “to encourage and develop creativity, self-expression, academic achievement and critical thinking in the young artist,” according to CFPA’s website. The program is designed to prepare its students for study in a college or university arts program.

The CFPA’s seven concentrations are creative writing, dance, instrumental music, vocal music, music technology, theater and visual art. The program incorporates the arts into all areas of academics, requiring five credits in the student’s chosen concentration as well as a humanities focus in language arts and social studies. CFPA teachers integrate the arts into class discussions, projects and field trips.

Like all specialty programs that Prince William County Public Schools offers (each high school and nine middle schools in the county have at least one), any rising or current high school student residing in the county may apply to attend the CFPA, even if Woodbridge is not the student’s neighborhood base school. Auditions are held each January for the following school year. Applicants must also submit a portfolio of works if applicable, teacher recommendations and grade transcripts.

Artistic Learning Environment

While students can only major in one concentration, those interviewed report that there is much artistic cross-over. Writers and visual artists may become involved in a theater production, or musicians might work with poets to write a song. CFPA students also become members of a wider artistic community within the school, attending each other’s performances and supporting
one another.

“The CFPA has brought a lot of new and fantastic people into my life that I’m positive I would’ve never known otherwise,” said Hailey Lanford, a sophomore concentrating in creative writing at the CFPA. “They lift me up every day, and their support on trying my best is what keeps me going and coming to school every day. This program makes me so happy.”

Senior Evan Frolov, a CFPA music technology student, said he’s gained career-oriented skills through the program, including running a soundboard and mixing and mastering music. Frolov, a drummer, said the number of instruments he can play has expanded as well. “I learned piano because of CFPA, and because I learned piano, it was really easy to pick up guitar,” he explained.

He said that CFPA broadened his appreciation of other arts, too. “One thing that surprised me is that I went in for music, but I came out appreciating writing, literature and poetry. … Because I was around CFPA, I was introduced to poetry and I found a new hobby,” said Frolov.

Liz Fegley, dance instructor at Woodbridge, said that CFPA’s environment of artistic learning spreads beyond the school’s walls. “Students in the dance program breathe in issues important to their families and community, create dance art about such issues, and then spread the word back to the community,” she said.

Showcases Student Talent

While at the CFPA, students are given opportunities to showcase their work and build their portfolios.

“[Writing] students are encouraged and required to submit their work to various contests and for potential publication,” said Cathy Hailey, the school’s English and creative writing teacher. Hailey sponsors the student-run Eddas literary and art magazine and “Coffee House,” a monthly open-mic night and art exhibit for Woodbridge students and alumni.

She said that CFPA writing students and faculty recently attended the reception for the “Off the Wall” poetry and art contest in Manassas at the Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory, which held its 10th annual “Off the Wall” exhibit of area high school students’ creative works Dec. 19 to Jan. 29 this year.

CFPA poets placed first (Neil Hailey), second (Brittany Crow) and third (Lindsey Barszcz) and CFPA students also won second place and an honorable mention in visual art, Hailey said. Additionally, Woodbridge Senior High School student Rose Curiel won first place in the contest’s “Photo Slam” category.

Other CFPA students earning accolades include Woodbridge Senior High School marching band. The group was named “Grand Champion” in three high school marching band invitationals during the fall competitive season last year, including an invitational at Caroline High School in Milford last September and invitationals at Spotsylvania and Stafford high schools last October.

The band also won first in division in the “Bands along the Occoquan” competition last September at Hylton High School in Woodbridge and performed in Lake Ridge’s annual Old Bridge Santa Parade in November.

Throughout the school year, students in the dance, theater, vocal music and instrumental music concentrations perform in numerous productions, many open to the public. Music technology students learn to compose and record their own music, refining their skills at Polyphonix Records (, the school’s record label.

Students Accumulate Body of Work

To graduate from the CFPA, seniors must each complete a final portfolio and perform or present their work in the “Senior Showcase” for their concentration. Proposals for these performances are due to the concentration instructor for approval, along with an “artist statement,” in January.

Hailey explained the process for creative writing students. “The ‘Senior Showcase’ portfolio is divided into three parts: a business portfolio with all of their best work formatted for submission to contests and journals, a personally-themed display portfolio for the night of the showcase—imagine a science fair display for writers— and a rehearsed performance of the work they want to share with friends and family,” she said.

Being in CFPA’s creative writing program “has taught me the value of the imagination and the effect one can make on an audience,” said Senior Zoey Ciemny. “It has been a reliable creative outlet to which each student may personalize their experience. This has given me a vision for what individualized learning environments should be like in the future.”

Senior Brooke Whitlock, another CFPA creative writing student, said, “I cannot properly express my complete and total infatuation with this program, in particular the creative writing concentration. … I will always be looking back fondly on my few short years in this exquisite class, visiting frequently, and carrying on the passion I discovered here.”

To learn more about the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts, visit

Helena Tavares Kennedy, who is a nonprofit marketing director and communications consultant, also enjoys freelance writing. She can be reached at


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