At Kelso High School, the arts are alive and well. The robust program has 24 classes taught by 10 passionate teachers; and the quality of their teaching is evidenced by the many successes of their students.

For example, in band, 29 students went to state competition this April, five students made all-state honor groups and another 16 are part of other honor bands. Visual arts students bring home numerous regional awards every year, and KHS students have won first place in the Ceramics Showcase in Portland for the last three years in a row. Thirteen theater students are active members in the International Thespian Society, and 16 more are eligible for induction, which takes place at the end of the year. These are just a handful of the many accomplishments stemming from the arts departments.

Even more important and impressive than the awards and accolades is the growth and development of the students. And that blossoms so well due to the culture nurtured in these classes.

“The kids are really supportive of each other. There’s never a judgmental vibe, so it’s a safe place for them,” said art teacher TJ Frey. “When they trust us, and each other, enough to really put themselves out there, that’s when you see really cool art.”

Theater teacher Sharayah Lovell agrees, and has seen students go from being nervous or shy to being able to explore characters and “stand up in front of people and say anything. They learn how to be vulnerable.”

Arts education also has a unifying force. “We all come from different homes, religions, backgrounds,” says band teacher Daniel Hartley. “That doesn’t matter, because for the next 10 minutes we’re all going to play ONE piece of music together.”

All the arts teachers agree that the classes are about more than the name in the course catalog. “We have a saying here,” Hartley confirms, “you’re here to learn about music and life.”

Frey adds, “It’s about expression, whether it’s band or art or theater. It’s about acceptance, that safe space to develop yourself. The arts lend themselves to self-discovery.”

Indeed, they do.