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Side of Ranch

Visual and performing arts key to student education

Lakewood Ranch High School senior Jared Mohr plays piano at Arts Alive. It was his first public performance after starting to learn how to play piano two years ago.
Lakewood Ranch High School senior Jared Mohr plays piano at Arts Alive. It was his first public performance after starting to learn how to play piano two years ago.
Photo by Liz Ramos
  • East County
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Growing up, art and music classes were my favorite times of the school day. 

I would come home with my latest artwork so excited to show it to my mom and dad. They would smile at me and beam with pride, even though looking back now, I’m sure it might have been some of the ugliest work they were holding in their hands. 

But to me, it was a masterpiece. 

Much like I was, every student in the School District of Manatee County is exposed to visual and performing arts as soon as they walk through the doors of their elementary school.

If you haven’t seen some of the student artwork or performances in East County, you are missing out. We have some truly talented students with bright futures in the arts. 

It’s understandable why the School District of Manatee County added visual and performing arts to the 1-mill property tax referendum when it was renewed in 2021. The district allocated $2.5 million of referendum funds to visual and performing arts programs across the district. 

The money goes toward covering a range of expenses from basic supplies like paper and pencils so students can draw to transporting students to competitions, where more often than not, they come home successful. 

Lakewood Ranch High School junior Tatem McCluggage says she started oil painting this school year and is amazed her work was selected to be a part of the silent auction at Arts Alive.
Photo by Liz Ramos

The funding has the potential to impact each of the more than 50,000 students in the school district whether it’s in elementary school when they’re making collages or singing in their grade performance or in high school when they are learning the finer aspects of ceramics, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, painting and more in their elective classes. 

While I question why recorders are still torturing the ears of third graders and their families, it’s an introduction to the beauty of music that could spark a passion that could last a lifetime. 

My love for music came in fourth grade when the middle school band teacher came to my elementary school to show us the various instruments we could play if we joined band. 

That led me to eight years of playing flute in concert band performances and four years of marching band in high school. When applying for college, I knew whatever university I would attend had to have two things: a great journalism program and a marching band. 

Fast forward through four more years of marching band at the University of Missouri, marching band had given me the opportunity to go to college football bowl games and travel to various states and even Ireland where we marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin. 

More importantly, marching band gave me lifelong friendships and countless memories. 

The arts open doors for students. 

In April, 77 high school choir students performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. 

The Parrish Community High School cast of “Frozen” was featured on “Good Morning America” last November. 

Camille McCluggage, an eighth grader at Dr. Mona Jain Middle School, had her artwork hanging at the capitol in Tallahassee for a few months. 

Those students always will remember those experiences and the people there with them. It could inspire them to go into a career in the arts or give them friendships they’ll have for years to come.

I’ll be interested to see what the school district has in store for our visual and performing arts students, given that the millage is renewed again Nov. 5. 

In the meantime, I’m 29 years old, and my artwork still is present in my parents’ home. 

Every fall, my mom still digs out the paper scarecrow I made in kindergarten and puts it on the fridge. 

She puts the black paper mache creature near the fireplace every Halloween. I want to say it was a puppy made to look like our family dog, Gypsy, that we had while I was growing up, but in all honesty, my little elementary self didn’t know what she was doing. I can certainly tell you no one would guess it was a dog.

The countless number of ornaments I made throughout the years continue to be hung on the Christmas tree each year. 

The list goes on. 

Every day students throughout Manatee County create masterpieces. Whether they become the next Picasso is yet to be seen, but to their parents, they already are famous artists worthy of the fridge. 

So give students as many opportunities as possible to express themselves artistically. You never know where it could go. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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