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Stephen F. Austin State University

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SFA, TJR develop fine arts partnership

NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The results of a newly formed partnership between the Stephen F. Austin State University School of Theatre and the Thomas J. Rusk Academy of Fine Arts will be showcased in a Fine Arts Gala at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, in the movie theatre in the Baker Pattillo Student Center on the SFA campus.

Developed last fall, the artistic partnership between the Nacogdoches ISD arts school and SFA School of Theatre was the idea of Dr. Fred Hayes, NISD superintendent, who wanted the district's magnet schools to "reach out into the community and create a partnership of some form to start building relationships that could prosper and continue to grow with these campuses in the future," according to TJR theatre teacher Heidi Rouse, who is also a graduate of SFA.

Rouse organized a meeting that included Melissa McMillian-Cunningham, lecturer in the School of Theatre, Dr. Sandra Stewart, NISD assistant superintendent, and Roxanne Lathan, TJR principal.

"Dr. Stewart and I had gotten to know each other very well last year during my first year in the district, and as she was aware of my SFA alumna status, she approached me wanting to know if I would be interested in collaborating with the School of Theatre on a performance-based project that would involve students from both SFA and TJR," Rouse said. "While being honored and excited at being asked, I was grateful for my students to be able to participate in an opportunity that allowed them to work closely with theatre arts students on the collegiate level and truly experience fine arts in education."

"We developed the idea of my THR 411 (Theatre for Children) students directing Heidi's students in mini-plays, which would be performed," Cunningham said. "To that end, three of my students have been on TJR's campus twice a week for about 45 minutes each day. They have cast their shows, rehearsed and worked with students on their presentation skills."

SFA theatre students Zundrell Green of Garland, Nick Pinelli of The Woodlands and Katy Rutherford of Richmond have been working with the students.

"Getting to watch my students rehearse with the SFA directors is very similar to watching my own children in class or at baseball practice," Rouse said. "I feel a sense of pride when they understand the jargon of the stage that their directors use, and I am overjoyed to be able to witness them have such a wonderful time and making amazing memories that will stay with them forever."

TJR Elementary became a fine arts magnet school for the 2011-12 school year, according to Lathan.

"This change happened as a way to give our community/parents an option for children with multiple talents," she said. "The community showed great interest, and applications poured in. The fine arts are a vital part of every student's education. The arts nurture creativity, critical thinking and curiosity. TJR strives to cultivate an understanding and love for the fine arts. Applications are now being accepted for next year. We expect to continue to grow."

The Fine Arts Gala will include SFA Theatre for Children student-directed scenes performed by a selected group of fifth graders, a dance performance by the Dance Enrichment Group, a presentation from the TJR Choir, a gallery featuring art works by students from kindergarten through fifth grade and other fine arts presentations.

"I would love to see this continue as an annual event that not only our students look forward to, but also the teachers, administration and community, as well," Rouse said. "I would also love to see it grow each year with more participation so that more students can be touched by this incredible opportunity."

For additional information about the Fine Arts Gala, call (936) 569-3100. Admission is free.