Gifted students explore the arts in Radford’s Residential Governor’s School


From the maestro’s cue, students position their instruments, and the music begins.

Strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion all blend together into a beautiful, soothing sound.

This orchestra, made up of high school rising juniors and seniors, has been together for only two weeks, but you can’t hear it as they rehearse. Your ears tell you they’ve been performing music together for much longer.

About a minute into rehearsal, the maestro motions for the music to stop. “I really love your tone,” Roanoke Symphony conductor David Stewart Wiley says, praising the students before offering further instruction.

“They are doing really good,” says Korin Lyons, a rising high school senior from Virginia Beach, as she listens to the instructional practice session inside Davis Performance Hall at Radford University’s Covington Center. “It’s crazy how this has been a two-week progression, and seeing that is amazing.”

The music seems effortless as these skilled students continue to play.

“These are the most talented people I’ve ever played with,” says violist Anna Halsdorf of Roanoke later during a rehearsal break. She is part of the group rehearsing and learning from Wiley, other guest artists and Governor’s School faculty.

“Governor’s School,” Halsdorf continues, “is a lot more fun than I expected, and I knew it was going to be fun. We’ve only been here for two weeks, and I feel like I’ve known everybody for a lot longer than that.”

Halsdorf and Lyons are among the 250 high school students attending Radford University’s annual Residential Governor’s School for Visual & Performing Arts and Humanities. They were selected from schools all across Virginia and are immersing themselves in their chosen fields and experiencing college life in the four-week curriculum that brought them together in mid-summer for cross-disciplinary classes and activities. 

“It’s a great program, and it’s very rewarding for the students and those who run it,” said Wayne Gallops, Ph.D., a professor of music at Radford and director of the summer Residential Governor’s School for the past five years. “The kids are tremendous, and when you walk into one of the Governor’s School classrooms and performances and see them interacting, it’s fantastic. These are the top, top students in Virginia.”

At Governor’s School, students enrolled in the visual and performing arts section take courses in music, theater, dance and visual art, all of which offer the students a wide variety of experiences in the classroom, through rehearsals and in performance opportunities. They learn from Radford University faculty members as well as guest instructors.

Radford professors from the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences engage with students selected to study in the humanities program. The humanities curriculum offers courses that explore environmental issues, leading change through political engagement, comedy’s role in everyday life, social change and American religious leadership, disability and film, poetry, game studies and hip-hop culture, where students engaged with a local DJ and rapper.

“I’m learning a lot from the teachers,” says Victoria Bairg, a rising high school senior from Richmond. “They tell us how they’ve built themselves up in their professions, what to do and what not to do. It kind of just puts everything into perspective.”

Lyons says. “There are so many accepting kids here who like the same things that I do. It’s great being surrounded by kids who are interested in the same things. Being around them feels like a big hug!”

Radford University is one of a few Virginia universities to offer a residential Governor’s School in 2021, and one of the benefits, Gallops said, of having high school students on campus is that many of them return to campus to pursue their academic interests as Radford University students.

“I’ll be walking through The Bonnie on campus [during the Radford University academic year] and hear, ‘Dr. Gallops, remember me? I was at Governor’s School.’” Gallops said. “And, they often will have friends with them, and those friends came to Radford because they heard about wonderful experiences on our campus during Governor’s School. It really is a ripple effect.”

Gallops sees this effect, he said, on both the humanities and arts side, and he expects the trend to continue, even though the number of students this year was reduced, from 400 to 250, because of COVID precautions.

As with so many other programs and initiatives, the pandemic forced Gallops and many helpers across the Radford family to restructure Governor’s School to ensure the safety of students, faculty and everyone involved.

Twenty-five group counselors, led by Radford University alumni Katherine Sullivan, Nathan West and Kelvin Gravely, connected to small groups of students, creating little “families,” Gallops said, leading students through fun activities and ensuring a safe, inclusive environment.

“People like our admin Katie Davis and other administrative staff all over campus are involved in making this happen, from Housing and Residential Life to Human Resources to Conference Services to Procurement and Contracts bringing in guest artists from New York and Miami,” Gallops explained. “It is incredibly complex, but everyone collaborates to make it happen.”

Two weeks into Governor’s School, Gallops pondered the program’s importance as he sat in his office in the Covington Center for Visual and Performance Arts, where sounds of students practicing their instruments imbue the air.

“In the arts,” Gallops said, “we have a belief system that right now is when the world needs artists and performers and philosophers and thinkers the most. These are gifted students in all those areas, and we’re proud to have them living and learning on the Radford University campus.”

Aug 31, 2021
Chad Osborne