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Quality Fine Arts Bring the World

to Owen-Withee

Jim Scheuer, Owen-Withee School District

This article is based on a presentation by the Owen-Withee Junior and Senior High fine arts teachers on January 21 at the State Education Convention of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators and Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials. The presen- tation, “Quality Fine Arts Programs in Small Schools,” was intended to share strategies for building, sustaining and promoting excellence in small-school fine arts programs. Session presenters were Jeffer Scheuer, theatre director (who also teaches Spanish); Anne LaVick and MaryAnn Smasal, visual arts teachers; Dr. Russell Hosler, Jr., K-12 vocal and general music teacher; and Jim Scheuer, band director. All are veteran teachers with at least 15 years of experience. Between them, they have five Owen-Withee Teacher of the Year awards, three Kohl Fellowships and numerous other honors.

The Owen-Withee School District, PK-12 enrollment under 600, has a reputation for high-quality, award-winning fine arts pro- grams. Our junior and senior high music, art and theatre departments have achieved consistent levels of excellence over many years. Grades 7-12 share the junior-senior high building, which is attached to the el- ementary, creating a self-contained PK-12 facility. Our facilities are nothing special. The “auditorium” is our gymnasium, with a typical hole-in-the-wall stage. The “art gallery” is our hallways. Our budgets are nothing special, although we have all been able to get the things we really need. Scheduling of concerts and plays is sometimes interesting, as we share fa- cilities and most of our students with the athletic department.

In a small rural community, the school is the cultural hub. Most fine arts experiences in our community take place in our school. As a result, we must not only educate our

students, but also educate our audiences and community about the arts and their value. We are all aware of many studies linking arts participation to academic achievement, but we also believe in “art for art’s sake.” The arts are central to all cultures.

Our junior-senior high operates on an eight-period day – eight 43-minute class periods plus a short homeroom period. We changed from seven periods in the 1980s, and this change benefited us, allowing students to take both band and choir, and more art courses.


Our theatre program attempts to foster creativity, self-awareness, self-esteem, discipline and responsibility. The program is mainly extra-curricular, staging two productions each year. High school stu- dents are eligible to participate in a one-act play that competes in the Wisconsin High School Forensics Association One-Act Play festival. A spring full-length produc- tion is open to both junior and senior high students. Despite inadequate facilities and rehearsal and performance scheduling conflicts, our one-act play qualified for the State Theatre Festival 15 of the past 19 years and received numerous awards for directing, individual and ensemble acting and critic’s choice awards.

Front row, L to R: Jeffer Scheuer (theatre), MaryAnn Smasal (art), Anne LaVick (art), Kelly Hatlestad (school board)

Back row, L to R: Russell Hosler (choir), Steve Heggemeier (school board president), Travis Engel (school board), Paul Heggemeier (school board),

Bob Houts (district administrator), Jim Scheuer (band), Rick Eloranta (school board)


Rehearsals are held before school, typi- cally 7:15 to 8 a.m. An assistant director and parent and teacher volunteers assist with set building, costuming and locating props. Graphic arts classes design posters and programs and publications classes prepare the programs. Student Council and other organizations offer a “dinner theatre” before some performances and sell concessions during intermission.

Each production typically involves about 30 students. To involve as many students

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