By JoAnn Guidry • Photos By John Jernigan
Note to Marion County performing and visual arts students: If you can make it here, then you have a good head start on making it anywhere.
“Here” being the Marion County Center for the Arts at West Port High School. The magnet-school program, which began in 2001, was designed to nurture artistically talented students from throughout the county. But acceptance into the MCCA program is not a given. Admission to the program, which offers four-year curriculums in the performing and visual arts, is via application and portfolio/audition. Yes, there is a minimum of both grade point average and FCAT level, but this isn’t a passive program. Come portfolio/audition time, a student has to deliver.
“The goal of MCCA is to offer a high-quality, comprehensive program of visual and performing arts,” says Suzanne Bryant, who has served as MCCA coordinator since 2004. “We offer substantive instruction, properly equipped classrooms, appropriate instructional materials, reasonable class sizes, and a great physical facility that supports a variety of activities.”
Bryant is doing more than just spouting good public relations. Under the heading of performing arts, the MCAA program offers acting, choral music, dance, musical theatre, instrumental music, orchestra, electronic keyboarding, strings, and technical theatre. The visual arts include 2-D art, 3-D art, digital animation, and photography.
As for facilities, Bryant’s words are again backed up by visible facts. There is a 1,800-square foot dance studio, 2-D and 3-D art labs, soundproof music practice room, and photography darkroom. The crown jewel of the MCCA facilities is its 664-seat performing arts center.
“Our program is designed to serve the total school population by a variety of experiences and instruction,” says Bryant. “We not only want to enhance the students’ high school experience, but we want to prepare these gifted young people for further arts education and/or employment in the arts.” The linchpin to any educational program is not just a comprehensive lesson plan, but qualified, dedicated teachers to carry it out. The MCAA program has the latter in abundance.
“The MCCA instructors are all certified by the State of Florida,” says Bryant. “They are constantly improving their arts and teaching skills through continuing professional activities.”
The current MCCA teaching staff includes nine instructors, all of whom excel in their chosen field of art. These exceptionally talented teachers include the following:
‘The Best Of Both Worlds’
Orchestra (Strings)/Piano/Electronic Keyboard
First impressions can be deceiving.
At first glance, Thomas Tedder is physically imposing. Fit and muscular with a firm handshake, that he is the head football coach at West Port High School comes as no surprise.
But that Tedder also heads the orchestra program of MCAA does come as bit of a revelation. A football coach who is as comfortable playing a cello as he is working with tackling sleds is not an everyday find. In fact, to some people, it’s darn right off-putting.
“When I started applying for football coaching positions out of college, and I was asked what I taught, I would answer, ‘Music,’” says Tedder, 34, who majored in music education while attending Edinboro University on a football scholarship. “Then there would be dead silence on the other end of the phone line. One principal even hung up on me. Guess some people just couldn’t believe a good, tough football coach could also be a music teacher.”
For Tedder, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, his life has always been about music, athletics, and teaching. His mother and father were teachers, music and English, respectively. As a youngster, Tedder played a variety of instruments — piano, cello, drums, tuba. He also lettered in football and track while being part of the high school orchestra, symphony, and marching band.
“My parents raised me to be involved in both athletics and music,” says Tedder. “It just seemed very normal to me.”
As an assistant football coach and music teacher at Independence High School in Charlotte, N.C., Tedder was able to achieve excellence in both fields. During his three-year stint there, the football team was the state champion every season. Then in the spring of 2006, the Independent High School orchestra, under the direction of Tedder, received a Superior Rating at the Western Regional Orchestra Competition.
Tedder, who relocated to Ocala last summer, has set the same high goals in his dual role at West Port.
“The way I look at it,” he says, “I get to be part of the best of both worlds. And while there is a different approach to football and music, it’s still about working with creative, talented kids. And it’s also about challenges and competition, both on the football field and in the music room.”
‘Living The Moment’
The energy of the pop music and the dancers fills the studio. Everyone is moving, in sync with the rhythm of the music’s beat. And if Brooke McCreight wasn’t at the front of the class, she’d be difficult to separate out from the rest of the students.
With her blond ponytail bouncing, the lithe 24-year-old McCreight still looks very much like a high school student. And her energy is as boundless.
“Sometimes other teachers stop me in the halls thinking I’m a student,” says McCreight. “I have to convince them that I’m a teacher.”
When it comes to her chosen field, McCreight was precocious. She was seriously into dancing by the time she was three; teaching at 18. Genetics played a big role since her mother Debbie was a dancer; she also owns a dance studio.
“My life is dance,” says McCreight, who graduated from Vanguard High School. “It was something I grew up with and love doing.”
Before joining the MCCA program last year, McCreight pursued a professional career as a dancer. She moved to Atlanta and was represented by an agent, but teaching was never far from her mind or her heart.
“I always had a dream to teach in a public school,” says McCreight, who has degrees in art and psychology. “I wanted to teach kids who couldn’t afford to take dance lessons.” Returning to Ocala, McCreight became a founding member and assistant choreographer of Dance Ocala in 2001. She also teaches advanced dance classes at The Dance Factory. Her resume as a dancer and a choreographer includes a long list of accomplishments and awards of recognition. But it’s her passion for the MCCA program that bubbles over in any conversation.
“When I heard about the MCCA program, I just knew I had to be part of it,” says McCreight. “It is such a wonderful program. It provides the students with a diverse program in dance. We cover it all, from ballet to jazz to tap to hip-hop.” For McCreight, dance is about “having fun, living the moment. That’s what I want to teach my students.”
‘More Fantastic Than Anyone Realizes’
Visual Arts/2-D Art
A room full of colors on different shapes and sizes of canvases, hanging on the wall, resting on easels, lying on counters and tables, even the floor. That’s the first thing you notice when you walk into Nina Lovill’s art classroom. It’s the physical evidence of the students’ creativity and talent.
At the center of it all is Lovill, a calm and inspiring force. This is a person who was oil painting in elementary school, knew early on that art was her calling and has made it her life’s work. She graduated with honors from the prestigious Berea College in Kentucky, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the top liberal arts college in the South.
Other accolades include being a Fulbright Memorial Fund Scholar, receiving the Faith Ringgold Creative Thinking Award, and being named the Middle School Art Teacher of the Year in Florida. Lovill is accomplished in and teaches all fine art mediums.
“My life has always been about what’s set before me,” says Lovill, who’s soft-spoken and wears wire-rimmed glasses. “I came here to West Port in 2000 and knew that the MCCA program was what I wanted to be involved with. It’s a fantastic program, more fantastic than anyone realizes.”
But as for her art classes, they are not as she says “for the faint-hearted.” While the students “receive plenty of encouragement, they’re also going to be challenged.”
Lovill’s mission is to provide her students with whatever it is they need to pursue higher artistic education and careers. All of their artwork must evolve from observation, in and out of the classroom — hence the skeleton, several bikes, and vases of flowers in the classroom. The students take field trips to museums, galleries, art exhibits; enter competitions; apply for scholarships. There was even a special trip to Paris last summer. A future excursion is on tap for Italy.
All of this has reaped rewards. Lovill’s students have gained admission into such notable art schools as Ringling School of Art and Design, Rhode Island School of Design, and Savannah College of Art and Design. Her students regularly win state and national art competitions.
“I like to think of my art class as a family,” says Lovill, “but one with high expectations.”
‘One Step At A Time’
Technical Theater/Technical Director
Several twists of fate led Eric Ketchum to his avocation.
Attending University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on an English fellowship scholarship, Ketchum was somehow paired with a theater teacher instead of an English teacher.
“I had never had any interest in becoming involved in the performing arts,” says Ketchum, 28. “The plan was to become an English professor. But I just fell in love with theater work and changed my major.”
Ketchum intended up graduating with a double Bachelor’s degree in Dramatic Art and English from UNC-Chapel Hill. He then went to work for several theater companies while “putting out feelers for graduate schools.”
One school he didn’t apply to was the University of Florida. To his surprise, he got a call from Professor Stan Kay, the head of the UF theater grad program.
“It was just out of the blue,” recalls Ketchum, who expressively gestures with his hands as he talks. “He asked me if I was interested and wanted to come for a visit. I was, I did, and I fell in love with the university and the Gainesville area.”
What followed, according to Ketchum “were three years of good and difficult times at a non-stop pace.” The end result was that he acquired his Master’s in Fine Art in Lighting Design and Theatrical Technology.
“Once again I found myself graduating and not sure what I wanted to do,” says Ketchum. “As part of my internship requirement, I taught a summer theater camp for students at the Hippodrome. It was a great summer with those kids. That’s when I decided I wanted to teach after all.”
Surfing the Internet for high school positions, Ketchum came across the MCCA at West Port. He applied and later met with West Port representatives at a job fair in Ocala. Time passed, he heard nothing, and began planning to move back to North Carolina.
“It was my last day in Gainesville,” says Ketchum. “I was all packed up and ready to go. I got a phone call, was asked to come for a visit, and then got offered the position.”
Ketchum’s classroom is behind the auditorium’s stage, an area that Santa’s helpers would be happy in. The large workshop is filled with wood, paints, tools and all sorts of materials to build the theater production sets. Ketchum’s students also design the sets they build. Last summer, Ketchum and two MCCA seniors spent a week and a half in New York City, helping to design sets for a Henry V production at a Hunter’s College theater. With the MCCA program since the fall of 2004, Ketchum thinks the program can only grow.
“It’s a great program and like the sets we build, we’re doing it one step at a time.”
Brauhn received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Ceramics from the University of Northern Iowa and her Master’s of Fine Arts from the University of Florida. As athletic as she is creative, Brauhn has run a marathon and hiked five 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado.
Gunn has both a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Electronic Intermedia and a Master’s in Art Education from the University of Florida. She is a professional videotographer, photographer, and has created a website to promote the teaching of animation: teachanimation.org/Westport.html
(Acting & Musical Theater)
Shelley has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre from New York University’s School of the Arts. A Marion County teacher since 1988, she was a 2002 Golden Apple finalist. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Ocala Civic Theatre, while also being a guest director for OCT Special Presentations and Theatre for Young Audience programs.
(Choral, Electronic Music, Guitar & Musical Theater)
Trinckes has both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Music Education from Youngstown State University. An educator for more than 30 years, he is a member of the Florida Music Educators Association and Florida Vocal Association. He also builds folk harps, belonging to the Florida Harpers and Friends Folk Harp Society.
(Instrumental Music & Visual Ensemble)
Vance has a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Florida State University. A teacher for the past decade, his bands have received superior ratings and won numerous awards in marching, jazz and symphonic.
Want to know more?
MCCA Program at West Port High School
Contact: Suzanne Bryant/MCC Coordinator