They didn’t have a poetry/dancing/singing club at McArthur High School in Hollywood. After all, not many schools do.
So last year, a student created one. She named the club, “Express the Arts”, and even though she graduated and went on to college, the kids are still Expressing the Arts at McArthur.
"All the seniors that are in the club will be going to college, we don’t just believe in succeeding in your high school academic career, you need something further,” explains Sheleessa Constantine, describing her club.
Express the Arts helped Constantine earn a scholarship to Florida Gulf Coast University.
“I constantly come back to McArthur when I’m on break from college, I believe that when you start a foundation you have you have to continue molding it,” Constantine said.
That’s an example of student leadership, a quality the principal has tried to cultivate by increasing the number of clubs and activities from 35 to 70. Each one is an opportunity for students to learn leadership skills.
“There’s two pillars that we really base everything on, one of them is pride and the other one is leadership,” said Todd La Pace, McArthur’s principal. "Our definition of leadership’s real simple: it’s the ability to make those around you better, and it’s created a wave of success because now students are looking at other students and saying, you know what, if they’re not doing something right, that’s not the McArthur way, that’s not how we do things here.”
They have an engineering class with a highly-ranked robotics team, plus all the usual AP classes, but McArthur has something unique called the SPIDER program, which concentrates on pushing the top students to the highest rungs of the ladder. Their mantra might as well be, "no settling for state school when you're Ivy League material."
“It’s always a personal connection with our teachers, they always talk about college and what we’re gonna do after we get out of high school and always striving to do our best,” said Alexandra Meridionale, next year’s senior class president.
The SPIDER acronym stands for Success Promise Initiative Determination Experiences Resources. The brainchild of Peta-Gay Bissett, who teaches AP Calculus, Physics, and Computer Science, SPIDER exposes students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college, to the possibilities and opportunities available to them. From financial aid to scholarships to community service projects that look great on college applications, the SPIDER kids are in a college prep environment.
“With a great campus comes great teachers, so we have a really, really quality staff that devotes a lot of time to these students,” said La Pace.
Four McArthur teachers won county-wide awards this year. The principal has a lot to brag about these days. His boys basketball team made it to the state final four. His girls softball team won the district, and the school is making waves in academic circles, placing more students than ever before into the Ivy League.
As every student at McArthur says every school day, it’s a great day to be a Mustang.