Towson’s Arts and Technology High School Is a Nationally Recognized Treasure
It’s early afternoon in mid-December, and things are buzzing at the George Washington Center for Arts and Technology. In a sun-strewn dance studio, two dozen teens rehearse a series of challenging ballet moves to piano accompaniment, while around the corner, the muffled pound of a hammer emanates from a carpentry studio. In a darkened classroom closer to the entrance, a young author stands in front of a mic, reading an excerpt from her latest work. In the hallway outside, a trio of young artists with paintbrushes in hand walks past and into a shared art studio.
“I can’t image a more fulfilling place to be an educator,” says Principal Karen Steele, as she stands in a hallway flanked by life-sized oil paintings—award-winning student works on permanent display.
The Carver Center, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, is a magnet school that draws talented students from all over Baltimore County. Each year, some 2,000 applicants audition for one of 254 coveted slots in programs including acting, carpentry, cosmetology, culinary arts, dance, design and production, information technology/interactive media production, literary arts, visual arts and music (vocal and digital instrumental).
While students at the Carver Center are clearly passionate about their art, spending several hours each school day (and many more at night and on weekends) perfecting their craft, they are also held to a rigorous academic standard: All must meet the full academic course-load required of high school students across the county.
“At our very essence,” Karen says, “we are a liberal arts school for the arts.”
Students in the dance program at the Carver Center take coursework in both ballet and modern dance.
“And our program is the only one in the state that covers lab notation—which essentially involves translating dance into ‘notes’ in order to compose and choreograph,” Karen says.
Thanks to a collaboration with ClancyWorks Dance Company, student dancers regularly have master classes with artists-in-residence, who offer critiques and valuable insights into what it takes to thrive in the world of professional dance. Performance opportunities abound (both at Carver and with local arts organizations) and senior year culminates in a trip to New York City to observe Broadway shows and take classes at leading studios.
Carver dance grads go on to top programs across the country, and many now fill spots in renowned professional dance troupes, including the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Royal Danish Ballet.
Students in the Visual Arts program at the Carver Center spend their first two years getting a comprehensive grounding in various genres, with courses in foundations of art, drawing, sculpture, photography, and digital film and digital fine arts (ninth grade), and Painting 2 and Drawing 2 (10th grade). As juniors and seniors, they have the freedom to specialize.
“The teachers here are incredible,” says senior Katia Vanlandingham, who finds herself drawn to both sculpture and painting. “The program is definitely rigorous, but we end up producing such good work that it’s worth it.”
Indeed, the Carver Center has been honored by the College Board with having the Top AP Studio Art course in the world and by the National Foundation for Advancement of the Arts for having one of the top visual arts program in the country.
Importantly, these young artists don’t spend all of their time in the classroom and studio. Field trips to New York studios of professional artists and to prominent art museums are frequent—and inspiring. And these same professional artists—and many more—visit the Carver Center regularly to critique the work of sophomores and juniors, who ultimately go on to preeminent art programs across the country and around the world.
Few teens can boast of being a published author, but at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, every senior in the Literary Arts program can add that accomplishment to their resume. Students write books in a range of genre—fiction, poetry, short stories, nonfiction, memoir—and collaborate with local bookstore owners for signings and reading. Their books are even available for purchase on Amazon.
Throughout their four years at the Carver Center, young writers meet regularly with professional writers of every stripe—playwrights, historians, authors, journalists and poets—and produce both a newspaper and a literary magazine. Senior playwrights even get to see their works performed, thanks to an ongoing collaboration with Vagabond Theatre in Baltimore.
Carver Center student authors are frequent winners in the national Scholastic high school arts competitions, and last year the school’s students took first and second place in the national Jack London Foundation Writing Contest—the first time in the contest’s history that both top winners came from the same school.