With a 100 percent college acceptance rate, a multitude of practicing Rhode Island-based artists, and a full staff of educators who are artists themselves, Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA) is taking the Creative Capital by storm – for the ninth year in a row.
The Washington Street school began as a community idea in 2007, backed by Dr. Joyce Stevos and Richardson Ogidan. When schools in the West End and South Side of the city were shuttered, the pair worked with community leaders to come up with and fine-tune the idea of opening a charter school for the performing arts. Three years of planning later, TAPA opened its doors to serve 34 seventh grade students. The student body has since expanded to more than 200 in grades 7 through 12.
Liz Richards-Hegnauer, Head of School at TAPA, says the school is “a strong public school option for Providence city students, targeting creative [and] artistic students whose needs are not met in traditional public schools [. . .] Most of [the] students come from groups to whom the arts might not be accessible if it wasn’t for TAPA and our artistic partners.”
Using an arts-integrated curriculum, the school is able to tap into the core of what makes Providence the “Creative Capital.” By employing two Artists in Residence in each of their four major areas of focus (dance, film, music, and theater), the school works to implement a standards-based curriculum in the performing arts. Richards-Hegnauer remarked that “the arts are authentically infused into everything we do [as a] teaching and learning tool” and is “the catalyst by which other subjects are learned.”
At its core, the TAPA mission remains the same as it was when it launched in 2010: to provide underserved Providence students with a rigorous and creative arts-driven secondary school experience that would prepare them to get to, and through, college. Each year, their students break barriers, including beating the national average for college retention rates. Richards-Hegnauer marvels that the “exceptional thing about looking back over the past eight years are the way in which our graduates have exceeded [our mission].” She says that it wasn’t until TAPA had students enrolled that she realized how effective their diverse model of teaching and learning through the arts could be.
Co-Founder and former Board Member Dr. Joyce Stevos recently reflected on TAPA’s progress after a brief return to the school, expressing her belief in “the arts [contributing] to our students having the strength to survive and, in that success, to tell their ‘story’” by providing a place of support that may not be available in the traditional school.
“Expansion is in our future,” says Richards-Hegnauer, acknowledging Rhode Island’s newly-established focus on Learning Pathways, which will assist students in identifying a passion while in school and allow them to dive into that interest. “We’re at the forefront of understanding how students are really able to implement their talents in education,” she continues. As a transformational trajectory, TAPA looks optimistically into the future for both themselves as an institution and their students.