Performing Arts High School to University

One fun fact about my high school is that our football team has been undefeated since 1976. Sound like crap? That’s because my high school hasn’t had a football team since 1976. For grades 9-12, I attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing & Visual Arts, a magnet school in Dallas, Texas which specializes in training young artists in the fields of dance, theater, music, and visual art. Before you ask, yes, it was as whimsical as the High School Musical movies. Because of that, my high school experience was far from the conventional one. Athletics were the furthest thing from my brain and never once did I worry about a boy giving me a mum for the homecoming dance. As a result, my transition into The University of Texas at Austin was quite the overwhelming one. Fast forward to now: I am in the process of completing my second year at a major state university. With all of that being said, I felt it was about time I share my perspective on transitioning into regular ol’ college and acknowledge some distinct differences amongst the two school cultures.

By Mykaela Johnson


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My area of expertise in high school was dance. At least half of my day, every day, was dedicated to dance classes followed by rehearsals. Everyone I was surrounded by knew the level of rigor and commitment I invested in dance, because they were doing the same thing with their art of choice— we formed relationships in that way. For example, my boyfriend, a musician at my high school, understood if I couldn’t do something due to the ridiculously tentative rehearsal that I may or may not end up having, because he was most likely busy with rehearsals himself. My university experience has been the complete opposite! Initially, I had a hard time explaining to people that I take academics, let alone explaining how my major requires extensive amounts of outside time commitment. I transitioned from a culture of people who all participated in a specified pursuit, and held the minimal surrounding pursuits to equal standard, to multiple cultures of people who, although aware of the of the optimal range of majors surrounding them, only choose to understand the components of their own. I’ve grown to learn that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing— it just wasn’t what I knew at the time. My friends outside of my dance major at UT had no understanding of the time, effort, and dedication associated with what I do. Conversely, I had no idea about their biochemical engineering major. My university sort of serves as a melting pot of career paths, which has given me the opportunity to cross paths (pun fully intended) with many unique majors and people. Furthermore, a university setting has allowed me to explore my own interests beyond dance and understand how dance serves a purpose amongst fields other than fine arts.

Another component that majorly differs from my performing arts high school to my university experience are the levels of diversity. My high school easily has the most diverse ethnic mix of any public Dallas high school! I am aware that is a very strong claim, however I think it is justified. Since my high school is a magnet school, anyone can apply, and although the school district does play a role in acceptance, talent is the biggest factor being considered during an audition. Because of this, my high school attracts students of all types seeking an education in the arts. Know that when I speak of diversity I mean on the basis of anything that can be constituted as diverse— gender, religion, and demographic, as well as race. In high school, I was introduced to so much diversity that I knew nothing different. Because of my high school and family dynamic, I was taught to accept people as who they are or choose to be, at a very young age. It wasn’t until college that I learned not all people think that way. Call me naive, but it wasn’t until college that I realized how much I value diversity. To be blunt, being an African American female at The University of Texas at Austin is not easy, nor is it something I considered would play such a role in my life post high school. The level of diversity at the university, or lack thereof, has made me very aware of the amount of diversity I choose to include in my own life and has allowed me to reflect upon how that has shaped me as a person. However, no matter how frustrating, I will never take for granted the opportunity to teach others the practices of open-mindedness and acceptance- something I totally accredit to the culture of my high school!

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I was hesitant to include this last component, however I think it is very important to include considering the entire purpose of this article. In high school, and still to this day, I am asked about the academic side of a performing and visual arts high school. Consistently, I become defensive and had to prepare my spiel on how our academics were just as valued as our artistic endeavors, blah blah blah. However,  if we’re being honest here (honesty is my ONLY policy), my high school does not have an academic culture compared to UT whatsoever. At Booker T., I had an amazing academic faculty, I had administration who went above and beyond their job descriptions to ensure that academics were valued, and I had a support system of people who ensured that scholastic success was recognized and rewarded. However, even with all of that, I still went to a performing and visual arts high school whose sole purpose is to give a rigorous education in performing and visual arts, not math and science. Do I think there could be changes made to better prepare arts students for university academics? Yes. Do I think the shock of collegiate-level courses is nearly inevitable no matter what the grade school education? Also yes. The stigma of arts school just being fun and play should’ve been debunked after Fame came out! I may have not had every AP or college prep course offered to me, however I had classes and experiences that gave me the real-life mental resources I needed to tackle collegiate level courses.

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My transition from high school to university was one of eye-opening experiences and unmatched growth. It is obvious that my high school experience will always differ from those who attended a non-magnet public high school. However, if you had asked me 6 years ago if I would change my high school of choice, I would’ve laughed in your face and called you crazy. Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts gave me some of the best memories of my life, gave me people I will cherish for years to come, and gave me the drive to continually pursue the arts. After all, how many people can say they went to a school like High School Musical?