FLORENCE, SC — Florence 1 Schools plans to invest about $1.5 million in its K-12 arts programs ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, the district said in a news release.

The goal is to lead the state in arts education and improve and expand opportunities for students across the district, the release said.

At the elementary level, a band program will be started at McLaurin Elementary School, which along with the band program at Greenwood Elementary, will receive high-quality instruments and essential supplies. The district also recently bought instruments to support band programs at Wallace-Gregg Elementary and North Vista Elementary, as well as orchestra programs in several additional elementary schools.

More than 200 elementary students are studying violin with new instruments in their hands, the district said.

Elementary visual arts programs will receive a variety of art supplies requested by teachers, including art panels, pedestals and lighting systems to display the work of students. The panels will be used to host art shows at each campus and can be seen by the public at the first Florence One All-City Art Show, which is scheduled for April 29 through May 4 in the Yellowjacket Room at the McClenaghan Administrative Annex.

Florence One will also be investing $100,000 to improve or expand arts programs in middle schools. Piano labs will be installed at Sneed and Williams Middle Schools, and Sneed will also receive new Yamaha guitars.

Moore Middle School will receive new furniture for its art rooms, including drafting tables. The arts magnet band program at the new Southside Middle School, opening in Fall 2022, will receive a significant investment in new band and percussion instruments.

High school marching bands in the district will benefit from a $300,000 investment to upgrade equipment and technology. Purchases will be tailored to the needs of each school and will include new uniforms, upgraded instruments, and technology.

“New band uniforms will definitely be beneficial for our program being that we march a different type of style; we march the high step,” Wilson band director Jarrod Deas said. “I think the fact that students are able to wear new band uniforms and showcase them will instill pride in the kids.”

One goal is to give the bands an edge during competitions.

“It is surprising how pivotal the role of technology is with modern marching bands,” Erick J. Figueras, director of Arts and Innovative Programs. “They use keyboards, high-end microphones, and speakers. All of that feeds into digital mixers which are remotely controlled by Wi-Fi.”

At West Florence, the auditorium will receive several audio and video upgrades that will pair with cinema display projectors and screens that were installed when all three high school auditoriums were modernized in 2020.

Significant renovations, totaling around $750,000, will begin over spring break on a new arts wing at South Florence High School. Designed to mirror the extraordinary facilities and programs found at schools such as the Governor’s School for the Arts in Greenville, the new arts wing at South Florence will house professionally-equipped studios for ceramics, painting, portrait photography, and digital art and design.

In addition, the new wing will have renovated rehearsal spaces for theater, dance, and orchestra, and the hallways will be updated to include artwork created by students, with display cabinets for 3D artwork and new lighting in all spaces.

“During a recent professional development trip to Greenville, we were able to see the spaces that inspired the changes in store for the arts at South Florence,” AP Art teacher Amber Harrar said. “It is exciting to know that we will be able to offer similar experiences to our arts-passionate students right here in Florence One.”

The state-of-the-art facilities will support new programs and course offerings. Innovative scheduling will allow visual arts students at SFHS to take multiple arts courses simultaneously as underclassmen and, as upperclassmen, students will pick areas to specialize in.

The digital art studio will have iMacs running Adobe Suite, iPads with Procreate and Apple Pencils, and high-end PC stations equipped with Unreal Engine for 3D environment creation. The ceramics studio will be equipped with a CAD-driven 3D clay printer. These advanced art programs will help prepare students to work in fields like advertising, video game design, and metaverse development. 

“The variety of courses that we offer to our students will expand next year to include digital design, ceramics, painting, portrait photography, and expanded performance-based classes,” South Florence Principal Shand Josey said. “This course expansion is only possible because of the upcoming facility renovations. These spaces will open doors for our students to explore new interests in ways that have not been previously possible. South Florence will be not just an Arts Magnet High School but a premier educational facility.”

All of these investments come on the heels of a school year filled with notable arts achievements. Nine teachers were awarded Arts Teachers Support grants from the state while three schools were awarded Distinguished Arts Program awards — SFHS, SSMS and MMS.

South Florence and Southside were again recipients of a state Arts in Basic Curriculum grant, and SSMS students placed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the SC Education Association’s 2022 statewide art competition. The SFHS Choraliers took home first place in their division and were named grand champions at the OrlandoFest National Music Competition.

The WFHS and Sneed concert bands earned Superior ratings at the state Concert Performance Assessment. A record 44 students had art selected for the prestigious ArtFields Jr. competition and eight high school students from across the district were selected for All-State Band and Chorus.