Morrison County teens passionate about Perpich Arts High School

Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley operates a public high school open to juniors and seniors from anywhere in Minnesota. The application process includes an audition, projects and an interview. Pictured are (from left): senior Kim Atchley and junior Maja Sullivan of Royalton and senior Paris Mickelson of Hillman.
Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley operates a public high school open to juniors and seniors from anywhere in Minnesota. The application process includes an audition, projects and an interview. Pictured are (from left): senior Kim Atchley and junior Maja Sullivan of Royalton and senior Paris Mickelson of Hillman.

School dedicated to the arts is public high school, open to juniors and seniors

 by Jennie ZeitlerStaff Writer

Minnesota has a hidden gem available for creative-minded high school students — Arts High School in Golden Valley, operated by the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

Perpich is an accredited public high school open to juniors and seniors from Minnesota.

Students can choose from seven general arts areas: media arts, music, theater, art-science, dance, literary arts and visual arts.

Maja Sullivan of Royalton investigated arts schools online after watching the movie “Fame” when she was in sixth grade. She never lost the dedication and enthusiasm that led her to Perpich.

Despite the fact that school tours are generally given to older students, Sullivan toured twice while she was still in junior high. Even so, when the time came to apply, Sullivan was nervous.

“It was scary and intimidating,” she said. “It was a really long process.”

For her music audition, she was given six photos and had to write a song incorporating those images. She then recorded audio of the song and wrote an explanation for what she did. She also had to do a cover version of a published song.

Despite those challenges, Sullivan is 100 percent satisfied to be at Perpich.

Hillman resident Paris Mickelson followed her older sister, Portia, to Perpich after their mom found a brochure at St. Francis Music Center. Mickelson applied in media and theater.

“The media audition was very serious, but the theater audition was much more fun,” she said.

After writing a personal essay describing why she wanted to attend Perpich, Mickelson had to write a short story and perform it as a monologue for theater. For her media audition, she was given five words and had to make a photo, a collage and a video depicting them.

Kim Atchley of Royalton has always been “really into the arts,” mostly in photography. After her mom visited Perpich with a student group, Atchley looked online and then toured the school.

“The application process was rigorous,” she said. “But it was 110 percent what I wanted to do.”

Part of her interview included being given a digital camera and three categories. She had 30 minutes to take five photos that fit the categories and present them without editing.

“On average in recent years, we have had between 225-275 applicants for 160 openings,” said Peggy Rader, Perpich’s senior communications administrator. “Perpich is a public school which operates within a state agency. That makes us a bit of an odd duck in that we belong to no school district, are not a charter or magnet school nor are we a private school.”

In 2012, Arts High School students had an average ACT score of 23.4 (national average: 21.1) and an SAT composite score of 1671 (national average: 1511.)

Course offerings are not only in arts categories. “There are pretty rigorous general classes,” Sullivan said. “Arts activities are part of every class.”

“Lots of classes have drawing projects,” said Atchley.

“There is no failing a class,” the girls said. “One fail will get you kicked out of the dorm. You have one week to bring it up or a second fail will get you kicked out of school.”

The student body is comprised of about two-thirds girls and one-third boys. About 70 percent come from the metro area and 30 percent from greater Minnesota.

Students who live more than a few miles from Perpich can elect to live in a dormitory on the campus.

“The dorm is staffed 24/7,” Rader said. “There are dorm staff on every floor. Boys are on the first floor, girls on second and third. Only designated areas (rec room, kitchen, computer lab) are open to all and are always supervised. In addition, there is a security guard on campus 24 hours a day.”

“The stairway to the girls’ floors is in the center of the first floor and there is a desk facing the stairway,” said Atchley. “There is always someone at the desk.”

Dorm residents have a curfew of 10:30 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends. Parents of students who are not signed in by that time and who have not called to explain why they will be late will receive an immediate phone call from the school.

For added security, the dorm is locked down during the day. Students can only get in if they have a pass to pick up something forgotten for class or if they are ill. A nurse is on duty every weekday morning except Tuesday and again on Sunday evenings as students come back from the weekend.

Tours are offered four times a year. In between, interested students can visit Perpich to shadow an enrolled student.

“It’s like kicking the tires,” Mickelson said. “Shadows are assigned to a student in their area. Kids here are really accepting of shadows.”

While there is no tuition to attend the school, since it is public, dorm fees currently run $3,600 per year.

“Financial aid is available, as well as federal free and reduced-fee meal plans,” Rader said. “Three meals a day are offered Monday through Thursday and breakfast and lunch Friday.”

All three girls enthusiastically describe life at the school and their satisfaction at being part of it.

“It seems like everyone gets along. We have a common goal,” Sullivan said. “There are no outcasts in the school; you can talk to anyone and they’ll talk with you.”

“People are accepted right off the bat,” Mickelson said.

“If you feel like an ‘oddball’, know that there are other ‘oddballs’ there just like you,” said Atchley.

The girls recommend that students interested in Perpich be really independent.

“You have to be ready to live on your own,” Sullivan said.

“You have to do your own laundry, go grocery shopping and get your homework done,” Atchley said.

“There is a lot of time and money management involved,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan’s parents didn’t hesitate at all to let her go to Perpich.

“I really wish I’d had a high school like that,” said Luke Sullivan. “I was a drama and choir kid and got bullied.”

“If we’d had that opportunity, we wouldn’t have wanted anyone holding us back,” said Laura Sullivan. “Clearly, this was important for her.”

When Rhonda Atchley discovered Perpich, she just knew “it had Kim’s name written all over it.”

But the girls’ parents worked with them to prepare them to live at Perpich.

“We spent Maja’s sophomore year prepping her to go,” said Laura. “Her responsibility level went way up.”

The girls’ passion for attending Perpich extends beyond their own education. Mickelson and her sister, Portia, are the oldest of 10 siblings.

“I want to be a Perpich legacy,” Mickelson said. “I want all of my brothers and sisters to go.”

For more information, call (763) 279-4168 or visit