Early in-school exposure to the arts can inspire children for a lifetime.

More than 25 years ago, Debbie Yoho signed up her soon-to-be kindergartner, Steven, for the lottery to attend Columbus Public Schools' Duxberry Park Arts Impact Alternative School—one of few schools highlighting the arts.

Debbie remembers why they chose it. After visiting a number of other schools, she saw students there “smiling, having fun! They looked so happy. Duxberry Park felt like a really happy place for the children and the teachers.”

Now in his 30s, Steven describes that early experience: “That's when the arts were infused in my life: in kindergarten. I thought other schools my friends went to seemed beige. My Duxberry Park school had color!”

Under Principal Bill Dwyer, Duxberry Park became one of Columbus' most treasured examples of the possibilities of choice within the public school system. Classroom teachers and arts teachers worked together to connect the arts to all subjects. Every student had enriching experiences in music, dance, visual arts and drama.

Steven's younger sister, Christina, followed in her brother's footsteps at Duxberry. “I couldn't get enough of school: the classroom teachers, the arts teachers, the atmosphere, everyone and everything around you! Such an exciting time and place to be and to learn,” she recalls.

Both kids fell headfirst in love with the arts. I remember them from our pioneering arts program called Days of Creation-Arts for Kids. Through Columbus Recreation and Parks Department's Davis Discovery Center, Christina made her debut in “The Cricket in Times Square,” directed by John Heisel, a local theater legend.

When Christina was in fifth grade, she auditioned for a play called “Boo.” Heisel was directing that play and also a production of “Macbeth” for the Rosebriar Company. At a break in the “Boo” rehearsal, Heisel stepped into the hall and saw Steven, then in sixth grade, waiting for Christina. He announced to Steven, “We need a child for ‘Macbeth.' Can you do it?” Steven said yes.

Now, Steven is thinking of auditioning for Heisel's next play, “The Slipper and the Rose” for the Grandview Carriage Place Players, and Christina just completed “Beowulf (and the Bard)” by Actors' Theatre of Columbus. Both have appeared in numerous productions, consistently enriching and delighting local theater audiences.

When I spoke with their father, Art Yoho, we talked about those amazing, gifted siblings and the lives they chose. He said, “Our culture has a low profile for joy and happiness and the work that goes into freedom. Don't you think there needs to be a place for persons in this world?”

Hats off to public schools that offer excellent alternative choices, as well as all schools that highlight the arts as part of their programs, and families like the Yohos who encourage their kids to be open to the wonders of the world. Let's honor our communities that offer us numerous opportunities to celebrate, appreciate and participate in the arts!

Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld is a longtime Columbus arts educator and author who works with children of all ages and encourages them to become creative, lifelong learners.

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