Integrating the Artistic and the Academic
A school in San Francisco looks to ancient traditions for success
SAN FRANCISCO—The Fei Tian Academy of the Arts in San Francisco has a lot to
be proud of: In a little more than a year since its establishment in March 2010,
the San Francisco branch of the New York-based institution for training in
Chinese traditional arts has shown itself to be a formidable school of both
academic and artistic strength.
have a unique Chinese classical dance environment that is very hard to find
anywhere in America.
— Lawrence Zheng, Fei Tian dance
This past June, Fei Tian students
scored in the top 10 percentile of the nation on the ACT Explore and Plan tests
(assessment exams for 9th and 10th graders in English, math, reading, and
science), with roughly a third of the student body scoring at or above the top
One month prior, students from Fei Tian won the top
three prizes in the short story category of the city’s 25-year-old literature
competition “Young At Art.”
Fei Tian provides a middle- and high-school
curriculum for students from grades 6 to 12. Aside from its comprehensive
academic program, Fei Tian provides extensive education in classical Chinese
arts—first with dance, while music and fine arts will be added to the curriculum
In its report about Fei Tian Academy, the Western Association
of Schools and Colleges, one of the six regional associations that accredits
public and private educational institutions in the country, noted that Fei Tian
provides a unique and much needed educational option for both students in
California and from abroad.
Rooted in Tradition
way by using brushes can be a new experience, especially for beginners like
American-born Chinese who grew up without learning how to write Chinese.
(Courtesy of Fei Tian Academy of the Arts California)
website states: “The 5,000 years of Chinese culture are full of stories,
legends, and values such as honesty, tolerance, respect and benevolence.
Studying traditional arts not only helps build up students’ character but also
their capabilities in learning academic subjects as they become more focused and
Cao Fengxuan, the principal of Fei Tian California,
said that the students’ academic success is due largely to their training in the
traditional arts. It helps students improve their concentration and develop
“A person who possesses great concentration is more
efficient, because he or she is able to focus time, effort, and intelligence on
the task at hand,” she said in an interview with The Epoch Times. “It’s natural
that Fei Tian students received high ACT scores this year.”
Cao said that
the students at Fei Tian have also matured greatly in the arts within a short
period of time. Within a year since the school’s establishment, they have
already been invited to participate in two large-scale community performances.
Every day, students participate in three hours of training in their
chosen arts major. High school freshman Angeline said that although dance
practice can be tiring at times, it refreshes her mentally and helps to relieve
stress, thus allowing her mind to focus better when studying.
Academy of the Arts California obtain three hours of dance training per day,
which gives them a solid foundation in classical Chinese dance in addition to
benefiting their academic studies. (Courtesy of Fei Tian Academy of the Arts
Lona Lou, director of academic programs at Fei Tian
California, sees other contributing factors to the students’ excellent test
results besides the school’s focus on traditional arts. “We have small class
sizes so each student gets full attention from teachers,” Lou wrote in an email
interview. “Our environment is very positive, and students are
Student Angeline said that her teachers at Fei Tian care
deeply about their students. Most importantly, the teachers are patient and help
the students to establish good learning foundations.
Lou sees her role as
academic director as a way to support students’ efforts: “My role is a service
provider for students’ learning. For example, one of our students was weak at
math. Then, we arranged a tutor for her every Friday. After one year, she
[could] catch up and got good scores in this ACT test.”
When asked about
the reasons why Fei Tian students excelled in the academics, Lawrence Zheng,
dance teacher, said about the teachers in the academic department: “The main
thing for the teacher to do is to use all approaches to make the student
understand what you are trying to teach. That’s the main thing. It is not just
throwing knowledge at the student.”
Principal Cao also expressed that
exposure to a friendly and encouraging learning environment helps to cultivate
curious, bright minds.
Angeline noted that her Fei Tian teachers
prohibited students from practicing bad habits like swearing, in stark contrast
to the teachers at her former school, who didn’t make the effort to discipline
the students’ moral behavior.
expression of his dance teacher (L). Classical Chinese dance focuses on training
the mind as well as the body. (Courtesy of Fei Tian Academy of the Arts
While external factors like traditional training,
individualized attention, and a positive environment can contribute to the
students’ achievements, the most critical factor is still the students’ own
attitude and dedication.
School counselor Lee Randazzo, who also teaches
English and social studies, said that the artistic training provided by Fei Tian
will enable students to develop a habit of constant self-improvement. When faced
with dilemmas in the workplace or in daily life, people tend to seek help
externally. Fei Tian students, however, know to look within themselves and learn
from past mistakes, which can inform their current decisions.
development of self-discipline and motivation,” Randazzo said. “When you train
in a traditional art, it helps you in academic pursuits. If you become a master
in one art, you become a master in many.”
What Fei Tian Teachers Say About Their School
think that the arts tend to help students develop different ways of thinking
that allows them to do better in academics. You know, growing up, I always heard
about … [how] students who study music will be able to think in ways that
allow them to excel academically. And I think that’s true of all the artistic
disciplines, whether they are in fine arts, in music, [or] in dance.
— Beth Lambert, English and ESL (English as a Second Language)
are welcome to come visit our school. The proof of the pudding is in the
— Lee Randazzo, English and social studies teacher
in Chinese is not just the computation. It is part of the understanding of the
universe … that inspires every kid and—myself.
— Ray Chen, math teacher
reporting by Matthew Robertson.
For more information, visit: www.FeiTian-California.org.
original Chinese article.