By Terry Dean
Students and families will be rocking in the halls of Oak Park and River Forest High School Thursday during Huskie Fest, featuring performances by student singers and musicians throughout the campus.
It'll also be a notable night for APPLAUSE, the parent group that supports arts programs at the high school. Huskie Fest is among the activities the newly-renamed parent group supports. Those unfamiliar with the group might know it by its former name, Concert Tour Association, which began in the late 1960s. The name-change occurred last year, along with a new focus to support all arts programs at OPRF and not just those focusing on music.
A couple of years ago parents had discussed broadening their focus to include theater and dance programs.
The name, APPLAUSE, was suggested by Christy Harris, the former president of Concert Tour Association, says Julie Griffin, the group's current co-president.
More than 400 parents are APPLAUSE members. As a nonprofit, the parents raise funds for the group and students. The monies support students and teachers, Griffin said.
The group funds such things as scholarships, music clinics for kids, as well as educational materials for teachers. Separate individual accounts for students are setup to help pay for things like music equipment they need. A portion of sales from fundraisers goes into those accounts, Griffin said.
The parents also want to engage in some academic and policy issues involving the arts at the high school, said John Messina, co-president of APPLAUSE.
He credits past parent leaders for helping with a major policy change involving students' grades. For years the parents pushed the high school to include grades from music courses in students' grade point averages. That change took affect in the last academic year.
It was somewhat unusual for OPRF not to include those grades in the G.P.A., said Griffin. In fact, the parents strongly believe in the impact the arts can have on students in other courses.
"It was one of the most important things Concert Tour Association did," Griffin said. "When kids excel in the arts, they excel academically."
"It's well recognized in education that student's social and emotional development is an important part of their learning and overall education, and the performing arts helps with that in a unique sense," he said.
Performing in a group and interacting with the other musicians or singers, for instance, helps with that development, Messina said.
Some of the parents themselves have musical backgrounds.
Griffin comes from a musical family. Her father was a high school band director and her mother a music teacher. She earned a bachelors of arts in music education from Northwestern University. Griffin plays the bassoon and has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Her son is an OPRF junior who's in the marching band, and her daughter, who's a freshman, is a singer.
"My son was interested in playing soccer and wasn't really thinking about music. I told him to just give it a try. He joined the marching band and now it's the center of his universe," Griffin said. "It's really important to have those opportunities that are available to them at OPRF."