Machu Picchu Peru

Arts Education at High Point Schools: Marianne Petty, Arts Educator

Fine arts instruction is mandated as part of the school curriculum for every child in the State of New Jersey. But before it was mandated, it was a valued part of each student’s educational experience at CPC Behavioral Healthcare’s High Point Schools.

For more than thirty years, CPC has recognized the significant, positive impact arts education has on the overall social and academic development of its students. At High Point, students ages 5-21 receive an educational experience that includes a comprehensive academic curriculum with evidence-based, positive behavior supports and a wide array of therapeutic services to promote an effective learning environment for students who learn best outside the traditional school setting.

Marianne Petty, arts education teacher at High Point Schools, celebrated her 30-year anniversary in 2015 at the annual CPC Employee Awards Dinner. During the ceremony, Marianne was recognized for her role in building the arts education curriculum for the students on the High Point Campus.

Marianne, a graduate of Trenton State College, taught art education to kindergarteners in the Florida public school system until 1981 when she moved up to New Jersey with her husband and their two-year old daughter. Soon after their move, she started working at CPC during the summer as an arts counselor.  “I wanted to remain in special education,” says Petty, “and since they didn’t have an arts program and no arts teaching position back then, I took a full-time position as a teaching assistant so I could stay at High Point.”

Four years after her first teaching job at CPC in 1985, Marianne accepted an appointment as the first, full-time art instructor. “In the beginning, we didn’t have the body of evidence-based knowledge about arts education and special needs populations that we benefit from today.  It was basic art theory and there were no mandated guidelines for art education. Teachers like me relied on experimentation to test what really worked. I had lots of questions and few answers back then. For instance, how could I develop an interest in art in kids who were never going to be able to draw?  Trial after trial helped me find answers.”

She continues, “Back when photography was film dependent, I discovered that photography was a magic medium for our kids. Today, darkrooms and film photography have been phased out of almost every elementary and secondary school, but using computer graphic programs to enhance and transform images has a very similar attraction/excitement for students.  So, I taught myself graphic/digital arts and brought that into the classroom.”

Other examples of projects Marianne initiated include starting the HPS Yearbook and creating the Peace Garden (photos). What’s next?  “We’re going to put in a Spray Park,” she says.  “Rick Gonzalez, our Director for Facilities, just put in 8’x12’ pressure treated boards where I’ll work with the kids on creating graffiti art using some of the examples I saw in Spain, Baltimore and more recently, along McArthur Boulevard in Newark, NJ.  It’s (graffiti art) becoming a legitimate form of art expression – especially for people who have been traditionally marginalized and treated as if they have no voice.”

Marianne was delighted to welcome a second, full-time art-teaching colleague in 2015, when High Point Schools hired Miralda Josephs to teach elementary art classes as well as fashion design in the adolescent school. “Miralda is great with the kids and having her as an art teacher proves how highly arts education is valued — and I include Craig Paige and his music classes when I speak of arts education — how serious CPC is about providing students with a rich and meaningful education experience while they’re with us. “

The ASAH awards (see story, High Point Students – Winners at ASAH’s Annual Poster Contest) are a recent example of recognition for HPS student artists but the history of art achievement for students on the High Point Campus spans decades. In the early 1990’s, a piece of art from a student at High Point Adolescent School was selected to hang in the White House. During that same period, another student’s art was selected to hang in then Senator Kean’s office in Trenton.

The list of arts awards and achievements conferred to students over the years includes:

  • Several Governor’s Awards, the highest recognition of student art by the State of New Jersey
  • Inclusion several times in the juried Teen Arts show sponsored by The Guild in Shrewsbury
  • Participation in the State Art Show sponsored by Ocean County College


Facing Racism Image 2                                         Facing Racism Image 1

Currently, several pieces of student art created especially for The Change Program are being considered for permanent installation in the Brookdale Community College gallery.  The subject matter for this year’s Change Program is “Facing Racism” and includes submissions from hundreds of teen artists from throughout the State.


Shown left and right, High Point Adolescent School students with their winning entries.




Marianne, herself, is no stranger to center stage at awards ceremonies. Some of her awards include:

  • Awards from Very Special Arts of New Jersey, the NJ State chapter of an international arts organization that supports arts education for students with learning differences. Marianne served as President of the VSANJ in in 1990’s and again in the 2000’s.
  • The Governor’s Award for Arts Education
  • ASAH’s Award for Arts Education
  • The Award for, Art Teacher of the Year, from the Monmouth County Arts Council

CPC High Point Elementary and Adolescent Schools are New Jersey Department of Education approved private, not-for-profit schools serving students K-12, ages 5-21, who learn best outside the traditional school setting.  At the High Point Campus, students have access to a comprehensive academic curriculum with evidence-based, positive behavior supports and a wide array of therapeutic services to promote a positive and effective learning environment.  The schools, located on the High Point Campus in Morganville, NJ, accepts more than 200 students each year from school districts throughout the state.

Posted in Blog.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *