Lily Fairoak. As a senior, I landed the role in my high school theater company’s production of "Sweeney Todd."

This was a big deal for me. My previous roles included townsperson number 2, party guest number 3—you get the idea. But Lily Fairoak was a featured role. I sighed dramatically and comically when talking about my character’s beloved Sailor Tom, and I relished the audience reaction each time. Heady stuff for a bookish, awkward high-schooler like myself.

I was not an athletic kid, and I did not participate in team sports. But my high school offered acting classes and a theater company. Through these classes and plays, I learned important aspects of teamwork: How each actor depends on the other actors in their scenes. How much work goes into set building, costume design, makeup, music, and lighting. How castmates develop a feeling of belonging through a shared goal.

I attended a big, comprehensive high school that offered many opportunities for students to find that sense of belonging: theater, marching band, sports, and clubs. I know not every school is able to offer these opportunities. Unfortunately, the arts are sometimes considered extras in district budgets that are cut when funding is tight. At the same time, we know that all students benefit from exposure to the arts in school. Students from disadvantaged families see even more advantages.

We are highlighting the performing arts in education in this issue of ASBJ. In this issue’s cover story, Contributing Editor Glenn Cook traveled to Aldine, Texas, to write about the district’s outstanding performing arts program. Cook also did an amazing photo shoot with the district’s dance company and theater students. Additional photos are available online at ASBJ’s web page.

Two performers—actor Tony Plana and singer Trisha Yearwood—contributed to the issue with their takes on the importance of the arts in schools. Plana discusses how the performing arts help students handle social-emotional issues. Yearwood talks about how students use music to express themselves.

My days as an actor ended when I graduated from high school, alas. But the experience gave me skills that I continue to use today.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Until next issue. . .

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A group of high school students paint on canvases during an art class.

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