Catalyzing Creativity

How Parker Performing Arts School provides free, high-quality arts education

Article by Hannah Echols-Grieser

Photography by Courtesy of Parker Performing Arts

Originally published in Parker City Lifestyle

Ten years ago, a group of parents convened over their concern about the loss of arts programming in public schools. Eager to provide a solution, they became passionate about the possibility of creating an educational opportunity centered on the performing arts. In 2016, that brainchild became Parker Performing Arts School—a tuition-free, no-audition, K-8 charter school located in the heart of downtown Parker. 

For students, a day at PPA is invigorating and stimulating. Students spend up to half of the school day engaging in the arts. Middle school students (grades 5–8) can choose four elective classes, including, but not limited to, dancing, acting, singing, practicing instruments, learning production, drawing, and painting. Elementary schoolers (grades K-4) cycle through four encore classes: music, visual arts, theater/musical theater, and tumbling. 

“Our students are wonderfully kind, creative, and talented. I can’t explain the pride I feel when our students get to perform,” Principal Phil Molfino says. “They’re incredible.”       

Not only does arts education provide fun and community for PPA students, but it also enhances their success in other areas. A recent research project conducted throughout 42 elementary and middle schools in Houston, Texas, revealed just that. Researchers found that students who have increased arts education experience saw improvements in writing achievement, emotional and cognitive empathy, school engagement and aspirations for higher education, and a lower incidence of disciplinary offenses. When you couple that information with the fact that funding for arts education is declining worldwide, it becomes clear that PPA is a unique, timely opportunity for children in Douglas County and surrounding areas.

A Rich Learning Environment 
For all the fun and creativity, academic rigor is not sacrificed. PPA offers a one-to-one iPad environment, an engaging digital curriculum, and a gifted and talented program. With a 15:1 ratio of students to teachers in elementary school and 25:1 in middle school, teachers can provide personal care to each student. Jamie Klusacek is a PPA parent who experienced this intentional instruction firsthand. 

All four of Jamie’s daughters have attended PPA. As a music lover herself, Jamie was drawn to the school for its emphasis on the arts and focused input into the students’ lives. Her initial assessment of PPA proved true when her daughter, Noella, was in half-day kindergarten. 

One afternoon, her teacher pulled Jamie aside and told her that Noella was not learning as quickly as many students who attended for the full day. So, the teacher offered to come in early to help Noella catch up on the material.

“That teacher’s heart for Noella was just so precious, as though she was a second mom,” Jamie says. “She didn’t have to come in early. She could have asked me to get a tutor. Instead, she wanted to lean into Noella and help her succeed, no matter the cost.”

Accessible and Affordable
Students attend PPA from across the Denver metro area, and there are no barriers to entry. Principal Phil and his staff are careful to create a “warm, safe, welcoming culture where students of all backgrounds can feel comfortable in their own skin,” he says.

Not only is PPA completely tuition-free—there are no audition or talent requirements to enroll. Caitlin Hilzer, a former PPA teacher and department chair, will begin her first full year as the Dean of Performing Arts this fall. She loves busting the myth that in order to attend PPA, children need to be talented in the arts before they enter the classroom.

“If your child shows any interest in singing, dancing, moving, or getting up on stage and sharing their talents with the world, we want them at PPA,” Caitlin says. “We will meet your child wherever they are and give them a space to share themselves with others.”

Performing Throughout Parker
A PPA student’s creativity doesn’t just stay in the classroom. True to the name, it’s performed! Students have multiple opportunities to showcase what they’re learning in elective and encore classes. There is an abundance of orchestra concerts, dance recitals, and plays throughout the year.

Each year, PPA offers two mainstage shows for theater: one in the fall for 1st–8th graders and one in the spring for middle schoolers. This year, students will perform Beauty in the Beast, Jr., in the fall and An Act of Piracy in the spring. These are big, high-level productions that students try out and practice for after school. 

The theater program has grown tremendously since Caitlin’s first year at PPA in the 2018–19 school year. When she started, 40 kids tried out for a mainstage production, and 40 were cast. In 2023, 100 kids tried out for the middle school play, and 40 got a part. In addition, the school has seen a multiplication of teachers and the amount of arts programs offered. 

Caitlin is excited to share this level of excellence with the Parker community in a greater capacity. As a performer, she views the caliber of PPA’s performance from a professional perspective. She is eager to spread her student’s creativity into Parker and beyond.

“Our kids are capable of doing some really, really high-quality performances,” Caitlin says. “So, I want our PPA community and people looking to experience good theater, dancing, and music to come and see what we’re doing. Beyond that, I’d love to take our kids out of the building and share their gifts with the community at large.”

To buy tickets to upcoming performances or to find information about enrolling your child in Parker Performing Arts, head to parkerperformingarts.org.

Principal Phil Molfino and his staff are careful to create a “warm, safe, welcoming culture where students of all backgrounds can feel comfortable in their own skin,” he says.

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