Outstanding Performing Arts School
Manhattan’s Professional Performing Arts School is like “one big family” according to students. Created in 1990 to educate students wanting to earn junior high and high school diplomas as well as train professionally and vocationally in the arts, PPAS provides an environment rich in academic and arts courses.
Each morning, students undertake rigorous academic classes. Those are followed by professional arts instruction in the afternoons. PPAS students major in one of four arts disciplines: musical theater, dance, vocal or drama. A typical school day includes academic instruction from 8:15 to 1:20. After 1:30, students spend time pursuing their chosen major into the late afternoon.
Principal Keith Ryan is in his eighth year as an administrator at the school. Before he became principal, Ryan taught English and history for the Professional Performing Arts School. Ryan believes that PPAS offers New York City students unique opportunities. He loves PPAS’s “partnership structure and being able to work with local arts organizations.” Students in grades six through twelve study with professional artists, which is how the school gets its “professional” name, according to Ryan. PPAS has partnerships with the Alvin Ailey School for dance, Rosie’s Theater Kids for musical theater, the National Chorale for singing and Waterwell Theater Company for drama.
Ryan is especially excited about PPAS’s partnership with Waterwell. He says, “We’re in our third year of doing the New Works Lab with Waterwell Theater. We’ve created a drama performance where we pull in up-and-coming drama directors and playwrights, and they work with our drama students to create a brand-new play.” Ryan jokes that he likes to call the new, never-before-seen original material “worldwide premieres.”
The Professional Performing Arts School, which has a 98 percent graduation rate—the third highest rate in New York City—provides advanced placement classes and college credit opportunities. The school accepts New York City residents from across the five boroughs, but students must audition in order to be accepted. Ryan says that entry into the school is “quite competitive; we accept about one out of every 15 to 20 applicants.” Currently, there are 80 middle school students and 400 high school students enrolled at PPAS.
PPAS also offers a wide range of extracurricular activities. “Most extracurriculars tend to be somehow connected to the arts,” says Ryan. Shows will be put on as fundraisers. Students are currently partaking in Hurricane Sandy relief through their performances. PPAS is also a member of the Public Schools Athletic League. Academically, students are committed to social justice. Seniors participate in an exit project, where they write a 15-page paper on public policy.
Ryan sees his students head off to diverse colleges and universities after graduation. “The majority of students go to four-year colleges or conservatories.” Many students attend Ivy League schools. The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance, which has a notable conservatory program, is also a popular choice for PPAS graduates.
Notable alumni include musician Alicia Keys and actors Lee Thompson Young, Victor Rasuk and Jesse Eisenberg. Though she did not graduate from PPAS, pop singer Britney Spears also spent some time at the Professional Performing Arts School.
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