Harlingen’s new Fine Arts Academy ready for students

HARLINGEN — The signs are everywhere, and there’s more to come.

“Fine Arts Academy”

Those are the words that will greet students returning to school this fall at Lee Means Elementary School.

Principal Mindy Sanchez spoke proudly of all the changes taking place at the school to prepare for the new academy opening this fall. Wooden cutouts of theatrical images — a dancing Elvis, Dr. Seuss, a man and woman arm and arm — waited inside the entrance to be placed around the school.

“We are partnering with the two high schools,” she said. “They are helping us put these up. We want it to be visually appealing to students, staff and parents.”

The district decided last year to create the academy as part of its Strategic Plan to offer specialized instruction in the arts.

The new academy has generated great interest among many. Enrollment last year was 634. This year between 750 and 800 students have signed up for the innovative curriculum. Some have come from other schools in the district, others from private schools, and still more from nearby towns such as La Feria, Rio Hondo and San Benito.

All preparations for the new academy are expected to be completed in time for the first day of school Aug. 13. One of the first things to greet new students will be the fresh planting area filled with young cenizo around the flagpole.

“We have had some environment changes on the outside and some art sculpture and some new signage,” she said. “We had some landscaping to make it look inviting to our students.”

She gestured toward a concrete slab near the flag pole.

“There’s going to be a huge sculpture,” she said.

Equally appealing will be the children acting out characters from a page as part of the theater arts program at the school. One of their venues will be a small wooden stage in a corner of the library.

“This little theater is a new addition,” she said. “We have new lights and a stage for students.”

Fittingly, an image from a recent production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” stood next to a shelf.

The school planned to incorporate theater into one of its primary objectives, literacy.

Outside, tables and benches surround a large round concrete patio.

“We’re probably going to be using this outside space for performances and different events,” she said. “This was in existence but we are repurposing it.”

Two portable dance studios stand nearby, waiting for the final touch before young dancers can begin learning new moves. Inside, a bare plywood floor stretches toward a wall which will soon contain mirrors.

“They are installing flooring, dance bars and painting,” she said.