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Michiana 2027: the future of fine arts in South Bend Community Schools

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — the future of the arts in education is at the center of a major shakeup headed to South Bend Community Schools.

“The most important thing is that we want to look like an art school,” said Erin Harding, the fine arts facilitator at Perley. “And it’s really all about making learning joyful and we believe this is the way to do it.”

At Perley, creativity is the number one goal.

“They’re working on the ELA standards through the art form and using art standards to achieve dual learning objectives,” said Harding.

Keeping the arts in education is huge there.

It’s part of the school’s plan to develop these kids into more cultured future leaders.

“Each grade level is assigned its own language and culture which is a really cool experience also,” said Harding.

The school also brings in local leaders.

And many of the kids see some of those local leaders as celebrities.

Like former Notre Dame Hockey player Anders Bjork.

“They are the ones that do the life lessons,” said Courtney Baranay, a third grade teacher at Perley. “[Bjork] was with us for two full years until last summer he made the decision to sign with the Boston Bruins and he has been in Providence and Boston now for the school year.”

For community service, Bjork used to hang out with the kids in Baranay’s class at least once a week.

Baranay says after he completed his service requirements, he still came back.

“He still keeps in touch with our kids and he has facetimed them and they write letters and we actually have our valentines boxes to send to him,” she said.

Relationships like that are commonplace at Perley, considering the University of Notre Dame is neighbors with the primary center.

“We feel as if we have worked exceedingly hard to put this into place and we do not want to see this disappear,” said Baranay.

Those concerns are in reference to changes headed to the district.

Just like many schools in the corporation, Perley has seen fewer kids each semester.

The past four years it has seen enrollment drop by more than 30 students.

The answer according to Superintendent Kenneth Spells is “right-sizing” the district.

“There’s a lot of pieces and a lot of questions right now that we don’t necessarily know the answers to everything but it’s exciting that this is a new opportunity and it can unfold however we envision it really,” said Harding.

The new opportunity is moving into a school that’s looking to embrace the arts.

“It’s something that Nuner was really meant for we have the facility here,” said Elizabeth Willkom, the principal of Nuner Elementary. “We have a gorgeous auditorium. We have the capacity this year, we actually have about 16 classrooms that aren’t being utilized the way they were supposed to be. So we have the room for the students and we’re just excited for the growth.”

Nuner looks to reopen the classes that went dark when it started seeing kids leave the district as well.

“Instead of having scattered rooms around the building we just closed down a wing,” said Willkom.

But beyond just welcoming Perley’s students and staff, the school wants to embrace its curriculum as well.

“I know that Perley they have a very strong connection with Notre Dame in certain arts integration and having kids come over and teach different languages,” said Willkom. “We don’t want to lose any partnerships with Notre Dame, in fact we want to grow them.”

Absorbing another school also means Nuner would take on one more grade level.

Come fall, instead of going to an intermediate school many of these fourth graders will stick around for fifth.

With more kids in the school, relationship building is vital.

“We wrote letters to Perley students at their school and we told them about Nuner and how it’s becoming a fine arts center,” said fourth grader Jordan Larkin. “And they wrote us back and we got them today and we were reading them and they said they’re excited to come.”

That optimism is why nearly every employee at Perley has opted into this transition.

“They’re in so they understand the benefits and the reasons that we’re at this school so hopefully that will just carry over and multiply,” said Harding.

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