For Gregory James Blount, founder of Eagle Arts Academy, education in America is in trouble. How using technology in alliance with arts and entertainment can help children find their stride.
It is not uncommon for people who are related to the film and entertainment industry to utilize their talent, knowledge and connections with the purpose of giving future generations a step up in what is no doubt a difficult business. Robert Redford in 1981 founded the Sundance Institute in Park City, Utah to give young filmmakers the opportunity to learn from already established professionals in the film industry, as well as a venue to promote their work. Gregory James Blount, similarly to Robert Redford, is opening an educational path, in this case for children, to explore their love of art and science through state-of-the-art technology.
The CEO of Sound Tree Entertainment, which has worked on feature films and has produced concerts, photo shoots and music videos established on the site of what used to be the Wellington Christian School, a new charter school that opened its doors on August 18th, 2014 named Eagle Arts Academy located in Wellington, Florida. In an interview with Art Film File, Mr. Blount talked about the purpose of Eagle Arts Academy and his ideas on education
A.F.F. I read on the Eagle Arts Academy website a little bit of your bio, and I saw that your background is in the entertainment industry. How did you go from that, to being the founder of a charter school in Wellington?
G.J.B My daughter was having difficulty learning in school and as it turns out she has an auditory processing issue and found school to be boring and disengaging. So, I had her tested and found out that she is a creative visual learner, much like her father. During this process, I started to ask questions about why education is taught the way it is today and why the arts and technology are not being more fully utilized in the classrooms. A friend of mine is the founder of the GStar School for the Arts in West Palm and started asking him (He is also named Greg) about what is a charter school and education. GStar is a high school for both performing and production arts and Greg had no interest in expanding to the elementary and middle school market. So, I ended up taking a free class that the Palm Beach School District offered back in 2012 and started the long, tedious process.
A.F.F When and how did the idea for a charter school come about?
G.J.B. For me, I am a true believer in the arts and the many benefits of technology. The school is named the Eagle Arts Academy, because I am an Eagle Scout. Each part of the logo has a specific reason why it is included. The eagle stands for strength and the ability for one to truly soar without limitation, which is my hope for each child. The rope is a symbol that comes from the boy scouts. The rope is a symbol to “be prepared,” the motto for the Boy Scouts. The star represents the arts and comes from Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, as many famous and talent actors, directors, producers are listed. Finally the slogan “I Will Rise On Eagles’ Wings” comes from my belief and faith that this was my true purpose.
Referring back to your first question about my skills and resume in the entertainment industry, I now truly believe that those skills and opportunities were there to prepare me for this opportunity. Even though I cherish and appreciate all of those experiences, nothing gives me greater joy than seeing these children come to our school and tell their parents that they “love to go to school.” It is truly a humbling feeling.
A.F.F. Was it difficult to convince financiers to invest in this project?
G.J.B Well, as a businessman, I have had to raise money before. Yes, I did worry about it for a period, but when I started to see the signs of things happening and things started to fall into place, I just knew in my heart that one day the vision would become a reality. Then on October 2nd, 2013, we were officially approved by the Palm Beach School District to educate up to 1,488 kids for kindergarten through 8th grade, I truly knew it would happen and it did. Then in March of 2014, I remember seeing in the paper that Wellington Christian was going to close and a group approached us and asked if we wanted to open a year early than projected and my dream came true last August; August 18th to be exact with nearly 700 students.
A.F.F. What makes Eagle Arts Academy different from other charter schools?
G.J.B Eagle Arts is different in many ways than other schools. When most people think about a school for the arts, they think about a fine arts school. Similar to GStar, we are a school for both the performing and production arts. In addition, with all of the public schools removing the arts and music programs out of their schools, we put it back in in a way that I have not seen any other school do it before. At Eagle Arts, we operate on extended days, so our class day ends at 3PM and each child receives 40 minutes of encore instruction as part of our typical class day. We offer six (6) encores at EAA that include acting/drama (by the way acting and drama are not the same thing), art, music, TV reporting, PE/dance and filmmaking/animation. Each child is issued each of the six encores during the course of a school year in a rotational cycle. This way each child must try their broccoli for six weeks and if they don’t like it, at least they tried it and can move on; however, if they love it, then their parents know which new area their child is passionate about and their child can continue to in our after school programs. The other thing that makes us different is that we will soon be opening a new state-of-the-art 1,700 square feet green screen TV studio, dance studio and our new digital animation studio, so there are a lot of exciting things in the works.
A.F.F. What are some of the extra-curricular activities Eagle Arts offers to its students?
G.J.B We have an extensive after school program that includes on-camera acting classes, drama classes, modeling, photography, TV reporting, dance, ceramics, art/drawing, guitar, ukulele, legos, and even some after school sports and cheerleading.
A.F.F. How is the admission process to enter Eagle Arts Academy?
G.J.B. Well, we are a free public charter school, so the process first starts by registering or applying online at www.EagleArtsAcademy.com. Then, based on the amount of available spots per grade, we run lotteries for a new student to be accepted. If they are accepted, we send them a notification and they have 10 days to complete a new student enrollment packet and return it to guarantee them a spot for next year. For the 2015-16 school year, we are offering grades from kindergarten through 7th grade. We will be adding an 8th grade the following year. This August, we are expecting to grow to 960 students, which we are excited about.
I also think it is important that a family that is considering Eagle Arts take a tour of the school with me, which we offer most Thursday’s at 4PM. Choosing a school is a very important decision and I think it is important for people to hear about the vision of the school, directly from me.
A.F.F. What is your most important long-term goal for Eagle Arts?
G.J.B I feel that the educational system is America is broken. I think that if we can “engage” a student to want to learn they will be more open to the process. To do this, we need to infuse the arts and technology whenever possible in the classroom. So at Eagle Arts, we just don’t read a book, we then use programs like Storyboard That and iMovie to bring the story to life. Kids today are running around with iPhones and iPads making movies or music videos, so I think it is important to listen to them and incorporate new and fun ways to engage the child. The entertainment industry has been good to me and it offers real job opportunities in the future, whether you are an actor, script writer, director, producer or graphic designer, so I would say that my long term goal is to grow up kids with the skill set and desire to explore the entertainment industry or at least to tell a good story.
In addition to Eagle Arts Academy, Blount started in 2013 the non-profit EMPPAC foundation, which aspires to improve the lives of children through technology and the arts. In a time where many children need different learning structures that public schools seem either unwilling or unable to provide, Eagle Arts Academy seems a fresh alternative for the education of future generations.
Interview with Gregory James Blount on March 24th, 2015.