By Noelle Neader
Photos by Kelsey Justice Photography & ASFA
The Alabama School of Fine Arts “ASFA,” which is the state of Alabama’s only specialty-centered, grades 7 through 12 school that focuses on the arts, math and sciences, accepted ten Vestavia Hills students into its program for the 2022-2023 school year. For Akhil Batchu, Henry Chen, Raymond Liu, Shreyas Keshava, Shreya Tandon, Spencer Bradley, Bobbi Katherine Garcia, Rishika Chakravarty, Delilah Wilkerson and Ari Woertz, the students accepted into ASFA, this accomplishment is no small feat.
Located in downtown Birmingham and consisting of around 350 students, ASFA allows students to hone in on their passions with immersive teaching, collaborative work and specialized concentration.
ASFA stands on four core pillars to promote growth as an institution for students’ overall success: the first being the “deep dive.”
“Students spend four to five hours a day focusing on their major of study alongside peers who are interested in the same thing,” ASFA President Dr. Tim Mitchell says. “We match students with practicing, working artists and professional researchers, which gives them the advanced skills to be really, really good at what they do.”
This deep dive serves as an intensive process to give students the practical experience that they need to thrive beyond the walls of the school.
“Being accepted into ASFA means I showed the admission officers that I had a strong passion for my specialty and would want to grow in that field,” Rishika says of being one of the 10 students accepted. “This also shows that I am determined to furthermore develop in the specialty I chose, in order for me to have a good future.”
This daily experience ties into the second pillar, “solid foundation,” which serves as college preparation.
“The solid foundation is preparation for lifelong learning,” Dr. Mitchell says. “We have advanced studies and a rigorous curriculum across the entire school. Many of our graduates look back on their time and see the skills that they got here as a foundation for their accomplishments.”
Equipping students to lead a life of success in their high school years and beyond is what makes ASFA such a special place to Dr. Mitchell, but this is not achieved in solitude. The third pillar, “supportive community,” encourages diversity and togetherness among students.
“ASFA lets me experience different classes and people than I would at a [typical] public school, so I can have a variety of knowledge when I go into my career path,” Raymond says.
Students are challenged by encountering peers with dissimilarities who encourage constant learning and diversity in the way education is perceived.
“The people here are very kind and understand different cultures,” Shreyas says. “I also feel like the teachers here are more engaged with the students and will do a lot to help students understand the topics that they’re teaching.”
The last pillar ties each one together and is carried on past graduation: “exceptional outcomes.”
“Our students become creators, makers, innovators and leaders. They are just the kind of kids that universities and future teams want to have,” Dr. Mitchell says. “Our exceptional outcomes are about our graduates, of which ninety percent receive a merit scholarship to college or university.”
Fifty percent of ASFA graduates attend various schools in Alabama and almost always appear near the top of their class. Many move on to some of the most renowned art conservatories and visual arts colleges, while others attend countless different schools in the nation. But, one common denominator remains the same: their education at ASFA sets them up for a life of passion and purpose.
“Being accepted into ASFA was very important to me because it validated me as a writer and gave me a chance to improve upon it,” Ari says. “While I’m still not sure what career I may take, I do know that ASFA will open up opportunities in any career.”
Dr. Mitchell says this career-minded atmosphere contributes to the “ASFA fit,” which is used to describe ASFA students as “passionate young people with a purpose.”
“These are students who know what they want to do, and they’re willing to pursue it,” Dr. Mitchell says. “It’s more important to them to be able to do what they love and follow it than it is to do every possible extracurricular in the world.”
Beyond a high school education, ASFA sets out to provide every student with something they call “future proof skills.”
“First of all, the students are going to be extremely good at what they do, so I hope they continue to pursue that into college and beyond,” Dr. Mitchell says. “Whether or not it ends up being their career, students have acquired unique and deep skills which often are not tied to one profession or one idea only. These skills are about thinking and collaborating with others creatively.”
For example, students in the dance area of study are all given the opportunity to become a senior choreographer, where they lead their peers through their own vision. This type of leadership translates to multiple circumstances beyond high school that strengthens their ability and cultivates well-roundedness.
“The most exciting thing for me at ASFA are the performances,” Raymond says of ASFA’s fine arts program. “I love being able to see my fellow classmates and friends go up to the stage and perform something they worked extremely hard on.”
To Dr. Mitchell, this success that the school sees was set up by a past of forward thinking and a present mindset of continual growth.
“We are the second-oldest public arts school of its kind,” Dr. Mitchell says. “One of the interesting things about education is that it is all headed in the direction of process over product through formative, challenge-based and project-based learning, which is really a model school for others.”
As for ASFA’s future, Dr. Mitchell says, “The next step for us is to refresh the campus and make sure our programs are able to grow in the direction that they each need to grow in. There’s a tremendous amount of excitement on the campus, and it relates back to each of the four pillars.”
These pillars serve not just as foundational elements of the past, but also as building blocks for a bright future that these ten Vestavia Hills students will participate in.
Through specialty-focused education that centers around the student, ASFA is constantly redefining what passions and careers can look like as they coalesce beyond high school years. For the students of Vestavia Hills accepted into the school, a life of talent and purpose is sure to follow.
Those interested in attending the Alabama School of Fine Arts can go to asfaschool.org and find resources to tour, shadow and apply.