Letter of Support from Paula Renfro, Chief Academic Officer of Duval County Public Schools

The Cathedral Arts Project (CAP) celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and this extraordinary organization has made a powerful impact on the lives of tens of thousands of students in Northeast Florida. For many children, school is the only place where they have an opportunity to experience the arts. I know this from personal experience growing up in a rural community, where the only exposure to the arts came from my public school. My junior high band teacher opened up a new world to me; learning how to play an instrument was a life-changing experience that I carried with me into my career as an educator and administrator.

A woman smiling at the camera

Paula Renfro, DCPS Chief Academic Officer

In 2000, I became the principal of J. Allen Axson Montessori School. The public elementary school was in the early stages of a partnership with CAP to offer a visual arts program after school. Opportunities for arts education were limited due to budget constraints at the time. We later shifted to the CAP strings program. It was a game-changer for our students. Many children who participated in the strings program pursued their musical journey into adulthood.

In later years, I was fortunate to serve as principal at John E. Ford PK-8 Public Montessori School and continued our partnership with CAP through formal dance instruction and arts integration. The many students who took dance experienced and developed a new understanding of the powerful machine of the body. In addition, our seventh-grade students participated in a unique arts integration program that blended theatre and government curriculum standards. This innovative approach proved not only to be fun, but also earned the students a 94% rating — the top score for the district — in state civics proficiency.

There is an incredible amount of research that proves arts integration enhances a student’s ability to thrive both academically and socially. Arts education extends the talents of children, allowing them to reach their full potential. It positively impacts school attendance, social connectedness and academic achievement through perseverance — a necessary mindset for the arts.

Dancers wearing white on stage

CAP students from John E. Ford PK-8 Public Montessori School dance at the 2019 Performing Arts Showcase

I believe what sets CAP apart from other arts enrichment programs is the formal skill development in a focused arts discipline, due to their highly qualified instructors. I worked closely with them as a principal for 16 years, and I can testify from that experience how essential arts education is to student success. CAP is expanding its teaching artist fellowship program to allow for more professional artist educators to teach full-time in Duval County Public Schools and community centers at a time when children need it most.

The pandemic has taken its toll on the entire education system. I am so grateful for CAP’s excellent work in partnering with our schools and look forward to its continued success.

This was featured as a guest column in the Florida Times-Union.

April 26, 2023