By Rachel Hirschheimer
When students attending the Long Island High School for the Arts (LIHSA) found out their school was in a position to close due to lack of enrollment, they were crushed. The school only had approximately 100 students in the program. But something special happened to change that around. Well-known Hicksville native Billy Joel stepped in to save the day. He offered to donate $1 million if the school agreed to stay open for three more years. Joel also promised to hold a question and answer session as well as perform for students.
On Feb. 8, Billy Joel took the stage at the Hillwood Recital Hall at the Tilles Center to talk about his life and how he overcame adversity.
“I made a lot of mistakes in my life and I do these Q & A sessions with students a lot to help; to try and help people avoid making the same mistakes I made,” said Joel. “I was fortunate enough to survive making a lot of mistakes.”
The hope at the end of this session was to increase enrollment and promote music and the arts.
“We are hoping his appearance and donation will increase enrollment so we can sustain the program,” said Nassau BOCES Superintendent Robert Dillon, who added that this is an opportunity for children not yet enrolled in the program to try and take advantage of its offerings.
Current junior at LIHSA Kayla Orefice hopes to be on Broadway and knows the school can help make that happen.
“Hearing that there was a chance of it closing down broke my heart,” said Orefice, but after she discovered someone very special in the music industry was going to help the situation, her spirits were lifted. “To hear one day that Billy Joel decided that we meant enough to him to donate money meant everything to me. It meant I can still pursue my dream.”
For senior Brittany Hernandez, the Long Island High School for the Arts has helped her grow as a performer.
“They have given me so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had,” said Hernandez, adding that Billy Joel’s donation gave her hope for the future. “He’s a childhood hero.”
On Long Island, there are many talented children involved in music and the arts, but unfortunately not every school can fund a program for students. Sometimes, schools will overlook these programs and give precedence to high school sports. Billy Joel believes this is a wrongheaded approach.
“The first things to get cut are the music programs and art programs,” he said. “They never cut the sports programs. Music doesn’t give you head damage.”
Although Joel can’t save all of the music programs in the area, he is trying to make an impact on the Long Island High School for the Arts.
“I can’t just pay all of the music teacher salaries in every school in Long Island, but I can do this,” he said. “I have a foundation to help young people be able to access music education.”
“I am doing what I can do, which is concentrating on this school and hopefully in a few months time we can see enrollment numbers come up,” he said.