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Student Shines at Duval Elementary Arts Magnet School

Camille Smith helps Bianka Sanders practice her technique.

The first time a violin and bow were placed in her hands, Bianka Sanders held them correctly.

"She's a natural, and that's rare," said Camille Smith, head of the strings program at the University of Florida. "She's a born strings player."

Bianka's talent might never have been discovered if she weren't a student at Duval Elementary School in Alachua County, where she is a 5th-grader. All students at the school are exposed to violin and a host of other performing and visual arts through the school's extensive fine arts program. Those who show exceptional talent and commitment have the opportunity for more in-depth study, often with instructors from the community.

Bianka is one of those students. Smith is now giving her private lessons at UF, and says she is as skilled after one year of study as most third-year students. Ultimately Smith expects Bianka will be ready for the prestigious Alachua County Youth Orchestra.

"She has great potential, but she also has the passion," said Smith.

Bianka has also excelled at dance during her years at Duval. She's been so successful that she recently won a scholarship with the local Dance Alive company that will provide her with dance lessons for the next seven years.

"Most of our students wouldn't be able to discover or develop their talents without Duval," said Angie Terrell, the school's fine arts coordinator. "Lessons and instruments are out of the reach of most of our families." Terrell says even the violin and bow Bianka uses were donated to the school for her use by a generous community member.

"Duval is the best school I could have gone to," said Bianka. "And it's a lot of fun!"

This year Duval became a magnet school, meaning it's open to any student in the district. The school maintains a strong focus on academics, with ninety minutes of reading, an hour of math and 45 minutes of science instruction provided daily.

Duval teachers say the combination of arts and academics helped boost the school's grade to an "A" this year.

"The arts are such a confidence builder," said Terrell. "Here we successfully blend arts and academics within our curriculum."