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Arts school encourages students to use talents for others

Arts school encourages students to use talents for others

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Arts school encourages students to use talents for others

By Sarah Alsgaard | Dec. 23, 2008 {0958}

ORLANDO — From ballet lessons for children to percussion classes given by a nationally-renowned percussionist, the School of the Arts run by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church strikes a positive note for children and adults.

Students in a dance class for 5- to 6-year olds at the St. Luke’s United Methodist Church School of the Arts stretch before class begins. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #08-1075.

“We just want the children to realize that the talents they have are God-given talents and that we encourage them to develop whatever gifts that they’ve been given,” said Pam Hultberg, director of the school, based at the Orlando church.

One of the most popular courses at the school is a percussion class taught by Beth Gottlieb, percussion artist-in-residence at Rollins College in Winter Park and principal percussionist with the Walt Disney World and Bach Festival orchestras.

“With Disney and Universal we have a lot of talent,” Hultberg said. “You know Disney’s just down the street, so we have a lot of those entertainers in our congregation … it’s easy to tap into the talent, so we’re very fortunate.”

In 1994, Bryan Fitzgerald, now music director for the school, noticed another church in Florida with an arts school and thought St. Luke’s would be an ideal place to have one, as well.

“There were a lot of budget cuts in the schools, and they were cutting back on music programs and arts programs and things in the school,” Hultberg said. “So it seemed like it was a good time to start something like that here at the church.”

Fitzgerald and the Rev. Bill Barnes, the church’s senior pastor, worked on developing the school after surveying the congregation and creating a task force. One of the questions early on was whether Christian principles should be taught through the arts program.

Ben Adams works on a paper lace banner that is being displayed throughout Advent in worship services at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando. Adams is director of emerging arts at the church’s School of the Arts. He also directs the class that teaches students how to create the paper lace banners. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. Photo #08-1076.

“We kind of see the School of the Arts as an opening for people to come onto our campus,” Hultberg said. “We have a little devotional guide that was prepared by people in the church so some of the teachers use it; some of them don’t. But we ask them to try to start each class with a little devotion time. Maybe they share prayer concerns or have a little prayer before their classes.”

Hultberg says dancers occasionally participate in the worship service, and the piano and dance classes sometimes use Christian music. The Christian motivation behind dance or music pieces is also openly discussed.

“What we offer is (a) non-competitive and nurturing kind of program,” Hultberg said. “(Students) are comfortable, and they make friends within their classes.”

Three of Sharon Mason’s children have been students at the school, and her daughter, Anna, is currently in an hour-long ballet and tap dancing class for children.

“I like that it’s relatively low-key in comparison to a lot of the other ballet groups in this area,” Mason said. “I think that any activity like this gives them a lot of confidence and just makes them a more well-balanced child.”

Bethany Hassen instructs the dance class, which is geared toward 5- and 6-year-olds. She also teaches preschool at the church.

Students taking classes at the St. Luke’s United Methodist Church School of the Arts created 15-foot paper lace banners that are being displayed throughout Advent in worship services at the Orlando church. Photo by Ben Adams. Photo #08-1077.

“I think it’s very important for children to learn something related to the arts because it teaches them discipline and creativity, as well as musicality, and it provides a place for them to meet other children in a positive atmosphere,” she said.

Not just for kids

There are also art and music classes for adults ranging from learning about digital cameras to creating paper lace, which is cutting out designs in paper — in this case on 15-foot long banners. Ben Adams, director of emerging arts at the school, directed the banners’ creation.

The idea to start a paper lace class came from a workshop Fitzgerald attended five years ago given by Nancy Chin, who wrote “Spaces for Spirit: Adorning the Church.” The book explains how to create paper lace banners and provides pattern examples. This was the first year the school has been able to hold the class, Adams said.

“It’s just another way to express your faith,” said Twila Romoser, a member or St. Luke’s who helped make the banners. “And the volunteering thing is always a factor and something I enjoy doing. It’s fun to get out of the house a while.”

The paper lace class is held Tuesdays, Thursdays and twice on Saturdays in order to accommodate people’s schedules. Students created triplicates of six different designs, and the banners are being displayed during the traditional, contemporary and sanctuary services at St. Luke’s throughout Advent.

“We really just encourage our students to use those gifts to do things for other people and not just for themselves,” Hultberg said.

The school runs on a 16-week semester schedule, and classes are paid per semester. Hour-long classes are $12 per class, and private tutoring is $20 per hour. Scholarships are available for students up to age 16. More information about the school is available at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is a freelance writer based in Lakeland.