ECHS Night of the Arts

ECHS Night of the Arts
By: Todd Martin
Courageously displaying their own visual artwork and standing on a stage to read their poetry and sing their songs, the high school students showed the heart of a lion.
Already known for their high-achieving, academic performance, a group of students at the Killeen ISD Early College High School wanted to push the boundaries of their own comfort level and expose a more artistic side.
They did it during the four-year-old school’s first Night of the Arts Friday at the Central Texas College Johnson Fine Arts Center.
A hallway in the center became a gallery walk with student drawings and written works. There were original paintings displayed at the back of the theater. Students took turns on stage reading their poetry and some demonstrated their music ability. 
Early College English teacher Chad Pettit praised his students for showing a vulnerability difficult for many of any age.
Between poetry readings, he pointed out the diversity of the works, allusions to various styles and the deep topics addressed from love and friendship to wrestling inner demons and overcoming racism and stereotyping.
“The success is in the try,” the teacher said from the stage. “Maybe even more students will be encouraged to take part in the arts.”
Following the presentation portion of the show, Pettit said he was impressed with students’ confidence. “I’m proud they were vulnerable enough to share,” he said. “I think it really brought something out in them.”
Many of his students expressed a desire for creative outlet and the teacher responded through working with the Early College staff and colleagues at CTC and Texas A&M University-Central Texas to plan the event.
His own mentor, Texas A&M professor Ryan Bayless critiqued student work and addressed the students.
He pointed out the importance of fine arts in teaching students and anyone else to deal with emotions. The university professor and poet praised students for showing courage, honesty and vulnerability in reading their own work publicly.
“Sharing your art makes it connect,” he said. “The art isn’t really finished until there is an audience.”
Early College sophomore Arianna Mendoza read an extended poem about battling inner demons. She said she hoped her listeners heard in her piece the encouragement to fight back against attackers.
“Don’t forget about tonight,” Bayless said to students as the evening concluded. “You have the courage to share with your peers and with teachers. This proves why we need art in school and in life.”
The KISD Early College High School is celebrating its first graduating class. Freshmen and sophomores attend a campus on Fort Hood and juniors and seniors attend the CTC campus. Students can earn their high school diploma and CTC associate’s degree simultaneously.
Prior to the event, sophomores La’Quaje Bradley, Jayla Gittens, Taylynn Burks and Mendoza explained that they wanted the community to learn more about KISD’s fifth high school as they displayed their art.
“I want people to see what I can do and I want to get feedback,” said Gittens.
“We’re trying to put ourselves out there,” said Mendoza. She explained how art can express the inner tensions we all feel and can be a means of facing fears.
“We are an academic school, but we want to show we can express ourselves,” said Gittens.
Combining high school and college is a rigorous undertaking that requires serious study and some students even use club time to work on academic skills, students said, making an evening of artistic expression even more important.