Making the Grade: Art Institute gets students college-minded early

As a youngster, Fabian Herrera was enthralled with animation and art. Now that the Lawrenceville resident is a senior at Brookwood High, he’s still finding time to devote to his artistic endeavors. Each Saturday, he can be found on the campus of the Art Institute of Atlanta, where he spends the entire day honing his skill.

“I’m learning the fundamentals of art, design and digital design,” said the 18-year-old. “Sometimes I work on it at home, too, but mostly it’s all day Saturday at the school.”

The class isn’t just about practicing and learning about art; it’s a part of the Institute’s College Bound program that launched last October. The goal is to attract high school juniors and seniors into college-level courses in the arts, fashion and culinary studies. The Saturday sessions match the existing requirements of college-level foundation courses offered at the Institute.

“I’m getting to take college classes early,” said Herrera. “That will save me money in the long run. And my class is small and full of other students who have the same passion I do.”

Linda Wood, the Institute’s dean of academic affairs, said College Bound reaches out to students who are interested in the creative fields and gives them the chance to have a hands-on, college experience before graduating from high school.

“They also have college faculty teaching them the fundamentals,” she said. “As faculty members, we like to see students come in more prepared, and this program gives them a chance to acclimate and learn more about the area they’re interested in.”

The College Bound courses are free for students who complete the Institute’s admission application and essay requirements.

“It’s a very easy process to apply on line, and if they earn the proficiency credit, it saves money they can spend on their college degree,” said Wood.

At the end of the year, students submit portfolios that are evaluated by a panel of faculty members. Those who earn a proficiency rating can apply it toward their college degree at the Institute. But it’s not mandatory that students earn a grade. That sets the program apart from Advanced Placement or dual-enrollment courses, said Wood.

“They’re not automatically getting a grade, so the pressure’s not there,” she said. “What they are getting is a lot of individual attention, hands-on experience and the feel of the college experience. And they’re meeting a cohort of similar-minded students.”

Since launching in the fall, the program has attracted about 30 students from across the metro area. Laura Bell has worked with many of them as the Saturday instructor.

“I used my introductory curriculum with some adaptations but a lot of the same assignments,” she said. “For instance, we spent time on design fundamentals – line, color, shape and texture – and applied them to different projects. Most of the students are interested in art as a college career, and they’ve shown a greater level of commitment than some other intro classes. These students want to be here on a Saturday; they’ve very enthusiastic.”

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