Chaney VPA program praised by community members

By Denise Dick


The Chaney Visual and Performing Arts program began in the 2011-12 school year.

Five years later, its students are earning college credit for dance classes, the program joined with another school to produce a popular musical and professionals and college instructors have sung the program’s praises.

“We started from the ground floor there,” said Tracy Schuler Vivo, the school’s VPA coordinator since the beginning. “At that point, it came together almost over a summer.”

VPA students in grades 6-12 perform in seven productions throughout the school year. During the 2014-15 school year, Chaney joined the Canfield High School Players Drama Club to present “Ragtime.”

Last summer, five Chaney students spent a week at the Dance Institute of Washington, selected by Fabian Barnes, president of the dance institute’s board of directors. They were selected for the scholarships from the more than 100 Chaney dancers based on their skills and work ethic with input from the school’s dance instructors.

Barnes, who died earlier this year, performed as a soloist for 15 years with the famed Dance Theater of Harlem.

“The program has grown tremendously over the last five years,” Schuler Vivo said.

Others in the community have taken notice.

“I am writing to commend the arts program at Chaney High School, and in particular the dance program,” a Youngstown State University professor of theater and dance wrote to Schuler Vivo in March 2015. “I have been coming to see performances at the high school since the program was implemented and have been thoroughly impressed with the lights, artistic scenery, the outstanding choreography and the growth and development of the students, especially as it relates to their improved focus, artistry and technique.”

In May 2015, Barnes also wrote a letter supporting Schuler Vivo.

“I can definitely see the growth in the students since my first visit, and I truly enjoyed the show,” he wrote.

Last week at a luncheon, Martha Bruce, who has been leading the city school district’s Adopt-a-School program for 30 years, also sang the praises of the Chaney VPA program.

“The VPA is the best thing that has happened in Youngstown City Schools since I’ve been here – and that’s a lot of years,” Bruce said.

A group of VPA students performed earlier this month at the Taste of Faiths event by the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches.

“The work you are doing there with the students is phenomenal, and there has never been a time where your students have performed in any capacity that was not on the level of excellence,” the Rev. Robin Woodberry, the association’s executive director, wrote in a letter to Schuler Vivo.

Since the 2014-15 school year, Chaney dance students have been able to earn college credit at YSU in their high-school classes. Schuler Vivo said plans are being worked out to offer college credit for students who take the music theory class at the high school.

The teacher of the music theory course at Chaney, an instructor in YSU’s music department, wrote an email earlier this month comparing what she teaches in her YSU fundamentals class to what Chaney students learned this year.

The instructor also wrote the Chaney students have learned some concepts beyond the YSU course, including how to harmonize melodies in major and minor keys.

Schuler Vivo hopes the progress continues.

“I think we’re continuing in the right direction,” she said. “We’re looking to align more courses in the high-school curriculum with colleges and universities and opening more opportunities for students.”

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