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Frank Sinatra HS students showcase artistic prowess

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City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott received an enthusiastic reception at the Summer Arts Institute, held at Frank Sinatra High School in Astoria. During his visit to multiple classes at the institute last week, Walcott was serenaded by student choruses, discussed the finer points of photography and showed his tattoo to a budding documentarian.

“This is a great experience to see the students in action,” Walcott said.

The Summer Arts Institute is a four-week intensive program where students going into grades 8 through 12 can work every day studying either dance, theater, instrumental music, vocal music, film, photography or visual arts. The highly competitive program, which is run through the city Department of Education with support from singer Tony Bennett and his wife Susan Crow Benedetto’s private Exploring the Arts foundation, had more than 1,000 applicants who were whittled through an audition process down to 350 students this year.

“Every year we have more and more apply,” said Margot Faught, the artistic director for the institute.

This is the second year the program has been held at Frank Sinatra HS, at 35-12 35th Ave. in Astoria, an institution flush with classrooms specifically made to teach ballet, concert band or theater. It was previously held at Manhattan’s Stuyvesant HS, but Exploring the Arts offered private support if the program moved to Sinatra.

David LaMorte, executive director of the institute, said parents love the program.

“They tell me how wonderful it is that the kids have a place to go,” LaMorte said.

Walcott visited classes in each of the institute’s seven disciplines, sometimes talking in-depth with students about the passion they practiced every weekday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break. At one point, a chorus sang to the chancellor “Livin’ the Dream,” a song written at the institute. Walcott asked students about their favorite types of photography or the difficulties of playing a piccolo trumpet.

He also showed a girl making a documentary about tattoos his own tattoo, a red apple with writing on it on his upper arm.

“He’s not just talking. It’s an exchange,” Faught said.

Jan Juracek, photography teacher at the institute, said Walcott struck her as an improvement compared to former Schools Chancellors Joel Klein and Cathie Black.

“I was not impressed with the two before,” Juracek said. “And it’s such a pleasure to see a chancellor interact with the students like this.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 12:01 pm, October 12, 2011
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