Picture the high school from the movie "Fame" and you have an idea of what Arthur and Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts is like. It’s a school full of virtuoso talents, so it’s not surprising that its orchestra has been invited to play at Carnegie Hall.
“Most of them, a lot of them, rather, are in orchestra and choir so they get to be part of two ensembles and we’ve also had opportunities to go into the recording studio so they get some life lessons and real-life music experience here at Mays," said music director Sarah Ruff.
Mays Conservatory is a public, all-magnet school which includes grades 6 through 12. Every student auditions to get in, and striving for excellence is expected from every student, in every field.
"We expect effort, that’s what we ask for from any kid coming here is that they wanna be here, that they try hard because we know that we can teach them and we can get them far," said lead magnet teacher Kristina Beard.
The school has only 620 students spread across seven grades, which means lots of individual attention in all classes, and opportunities to, for example, nail down a starring role in the school play.
"We know each and every one of them and it helps us because we kind of teach to their ability," Beard said.
Because it’s a 6 through 12 school, middle school kids can punch above their weight and participate in high school level activities.
"If you're in middle school we try to treat you like you’re in high school and we try to accelerate your learning like high school, and if you’re in high school we try to accelerate your learning like you’re in college in both the artistic side and the academic side," said principal Martin Reid, who was recently named the national magnet school principal of the year.
Reid says it’s unusual for a public school to offer such a small-school, tailored environment.
"We’re small and we have the best teachers, teachers who can teach the most talented kids as well as the beginners," Reid said.
While every student must audition in either performance arts, visual arts, or communicative arts, Reid says the school saves a few spots for younger kids who show tremendous ambition and desire and admits them on a probationary level. He says one such student came in as a sixth grader barely able to play an instrument and now, as a senior, is one of the best musicians in the school. It’s all about practice and the willingness to work hard.
Mays Conservatory has a television production course, a creative writing course, and of course, it wouldn’t be a conservatory without dance. They offer ballet, modern, ballroom, hiphop, Latin, all kinds of dance classes to get students moving at a school which is most certainly moving its way up.
Even though it’s way down south in Goulds, students from as far away as North Miami attend Arthur and Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts.