More than 10% of Hamilton’s population is a public school student.
It follows that, if the arts are to thrive in Hamilton Township, its student population is vital.
Almost 70% of Hamilton Township School District students participate in the visual and performing arts, athletics or some other extracurricular activity.
Hamilton Township School District superintendent Scott Rocco said this student engagement is what powers the existing arts and culture within the district. He pointed to a list of activities such as Heritage Months, school murals, the bands and choirs, field trips to museums and exhibits, and teen arts festivals coordinated with Mercer County.
Each middle school and high puts on an annual school musical. Rocco attends each one, and as an actor himself from his school plays in his hometown of South Plainfield, Rocco said he appreciates all the rehearsals, set building, lighting and sound efforts that make the plays seamless and professional. He said he often leaves a show forgetting that the performers are middle and high school students.
“There are two reasons the kids enjoy the musicals and concerts,” Rocco said. One is the teachers who motivate and animate the subjects and the students. The advisors, which are mainly teachers, are like coaches in sports. They push the kids to do their best. The second reason is the kids feel good about performing. Performing after all the work and rehearsing gives such a confidence boost.”
The parents are also involved in volunteering. They build sets for the stage, sell ads and tickets, and work the concessions on show nights. They are also, of course, proud attendees of the show.
Rocco also praised the school bands and choirs. Rocco played trumpet during his school years, and he said he appreciates the tenacity the students must possess to master their instruments.
Each high school has numerous musical opportunities for the students. There are orchestras, concert bands, jazz bands, marching bands, dance teams, select choirs, and gospel choir.
Elementary through high school students also have music and art classes as part of the curriculum. Kindergarten through grade 5 have weekly art and music classes and optional band/orchestra lessons. Middle school students have art and music classes either every other day, by marking period or as a yearlong elective. Visual art is a required class through middle school, then is branched into an elective in high school. There are AP and Honors visual art classes, such as AP and Honors studio art, ceramics and sculpture, commercial design and illustration, drawing and painting and mixed media. The visual art classes put on an annual exhibition, which is virtual this year and can be seen online at htsdnj.org/Page/18867.
Rocco said the school district needs a couple of things in order to assure the success of its arts programs. The first is the time of creative individuals. The second need is one that’s echoed by arts groups and artists across the township: venues.
“When planning events, we often need venues which can support our large community,” Rocco said. “Oftentimes, locating a venue can cripple our plans due to the hefty cost. Having a list of venues where we could hold events for free or with a generous discount would be great.”