Many of you have just enjoyed spring break and time away from work or school. Phillip and I had a wonderful spring break and did something very special this year. We spent a few days visiting an arts school. It was an incredible experience, so let me share a little about it with you.

This particular school is set up in such a way that students within a 60-mile radius may attend, allowing for regional participation. Students are ninth- through 12th-graders who audition to get into a program of study. They can select from six areas: vocal music, instrumental music, theater and film, musical theater, dance or visual art. They attend this school daily during the nine-month school year as part of their overall high school experience and may attend the school for all four years of their high school program. The teachers are professional artists who prepare the students for college.

Now, it may seem that what we did was to simply visit a high school, but in reality, this high school is not like any you have ever seen. This school embraces a group of students who are the next generation of creative thinkers and artists, all working together as they support, respect and affirm one another in their craft. Ninety-nine percent of all students in this school go to college. In fact, I met a class of 12 visual artists who have already auditioned for college and know exactly where they are going. Last year alone, the school graduated 86 students, all of whom went to college on scholarship with a total of $7.1 million awarded in scholarship money to these students.

This school is unique in that there are virtually no discipline problems. Students are there because they want to be. They love what they are doing and love the people they are with. The retention rate is nearly 100 percent. Those students who are accepted into the school in their ninth-grade year typically stay all four years. Students in this school are focused, disciplined and self-confident, not to mention talented. They work together as a team, respect authority, communicate well and practice hard.

In short, this type of school is a virtual paradise for teachers and students. The environment is invigorating and exhilarating. All of the different types of arts activities are going on simultaneously up and down the hallways, and it is so cool to see that in action. It was delightful to meet and visit with the students and their teachers. They shared about all of the things they are doing and told us repeatedly how much they love their school.

As we have been talking over the past couple of months about the shift in world thinking to leaders who are creators and innovators, arts schools will play a major role in this transformation. Team work, problem-solving, communication and thinking outside the box will be the skills needed to lead. These are the skills that are developed in the arts. For those of us in the arts, the change in leadership style is going to be a very positive one. What we previously called the "misunderstood artist" will now be the individual who is praised for his creative work. Businesses, organizations and educational institutions will be driven by these people.

But even without this philosophical change, the arts school I visited is, without a doubt, a top model of precollege education. The principles of hands-on learning, repetition through daily practice, focus, communication and team work are the ingredients to success in this school and ultimately in life. I was encouraged by the fact that at Community School of the Arts, we are providing some of these same types of opportunities for our students and seeing successful results. I was very thankful for the chance to make this trip and see a school like CSA.

As I close today, I want to personally invite you to an exciting event — Gospel Fest 2018. We have had this concert periodically through the years, and it is always a favorite of this community. For me, it is such a rewarding opportunity.

This year, four area church choirs (Rye Hill Baptist, FBC Van Buren, Concord Baptist, and FBC Alma) are coming together April 13 at First Baptist Church Van Buren for a night of old time gospel music. Some of the area’s favorite soloists will be singing with us as well, including tenor Barry Law, black gospel singers Brian Gary and Belva Ross, southern gospel singer Pam Camp, and the men’s quartet singing Gaither favorites. All of this is set to a live orchestra. If you love good gospel music, this is for you! Concert time is 7 p.m. and you can get tickets with us at CSA by calling 434-2020 or order online at csafortsmith.org. Tickets are also available at all participating churches as well as Solid Rock, Revelation Books, FBC Greenwood and Bedford Camera & Video.

Dr. Rosilee Russell is the founder/executive director of Community School of the Arts. Contact her at Rosilee.Russell@csafortsmith.org, call 434-2880 or visit www.csafortsmith.org.