Originally published in the Abington Journal By Kelly McDonough
SCRANTON — “Our whole philosophy is performance is really important, but our program is all about getting kids to believe in their own strengths and creativity and learn something about themselves. We’re all important, and we respect and love each other and create a family-like atmosphere.”
That’s Dr. Catherine Cullen’s take-away after serving 27 years as the Arts Alive director of NEIU 19 and consultant to the Pennsylvania Council of Arts and Education in partnership with NEIU.
Arts Alive serves five counties in both performing and visual arts. They’ve won many awards over the years, including “Best Practices in the Arts” from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Cullen mentioned how she has seen students go on to be well-established artists. Recently, one of her students earned a role at the Metropolitan Opera Company while another student is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright in New York City.
Zoe McGlynn, a soon-to-be Abington Heights High School senior, has been involved in Arts Alive since sixth grade.
“My specialty is singing, but with Arts Alive, I’ve been able to expand upon and break out to dancing and acting, as well.”
McGlynn, a triple-threat, feels Arts Alive is one of the best programs in the area to join even if one is not interested in theater. She talked about how there are many opportunities to shine and how all the instructors are caring and willing to see the best in other people.
“As Dr. Cullen would say, ‘the biggest part of the program is learning how important other people are and value other people for their talents.’”
McGlynn also went on to say how Cullen and her instructors encourage everyone to be the best they can and appreciate everyone.
And Cullen said the most important aspect of Arts Alive is that her kids understand they have a tremendous level of creativity and teaching them how to respect and love all people.
“Everyone who works in the program feels the same exact way,” said Cullen.
Makenna Kethelycox, a student entering her sophomore year at Abington Heights High School, offered advice to parents, telling them if their children are very excited and want to perform, she would suggest Arts Alive as the most supportive program.
“My mom is my biggest supporter and helps me with everything I need to do to accomplish my dreams in the performing arts. By her just driving me there every day back and forth, it’s a great feeling to have. I thank her.”
Actually, Kethelyncox mentioned how out of all her friends, she knows exactly what she wants to do.
“For me, my career is to perform on Broadway.”
Cullen stated the quality of teaching in Arts Alive is exceptional because all the artists are vetted.
“This is a public school program, and we are fully inclusive. We have had children who have handicaps. We have had children who are mentally challenged. In Arts Alive, every child has a role.”
Zachary Cahn is entering his freshman year at Abington Heights High School and has spent the past summer in musical summer camp. Though he is both nervous and excited about the upcoming musical performance, he said, “I’m now looking forward to auditioning for ‘Chicago,’ the upcoming Abington Heights High School play.”
Cullen herself is a classically trained pianist, vocalist and has worked in theater. She is anxious to see her students give the culmination of their work in a musical on Wednesday, July 31, at the The Theater at North, 1539 N. Main Ave. in Scranton. Tickets are $20 per person and children under 5 are admitted free. All proceeds go back into the school’s scholarships fund.
The visual arts exhibition will be held at the Everhart Museum in Scranton with a showcase at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 2. It is a free event open to the public.
“We have a lot of kids who can’t afford to attend and rely on scholarship funds,” Cullen said, stressing how the organization takes every child in at a time when arts are being cut back in the school system.
Any person or business wishing to donate to the scholarship fund may contact NEIU 19 at 570-876-9200 or go to Aienepa.org for the Arts Alive foundation.