California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley celebrates its inaugural year

California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley (CSArts-SGV) is full of sound and colors. The freshly painted red, blue, and yellow buildings are bustling with activity: students dancing, singing, painting, writing, acting, playing instruments. In front of the cafeteria, students, parents, teachers, city council members, and a state senator gather excitedly to watch three amazing student performers, recognitions, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 1 that will take them all on a new journey.

Soon the sounds and colors will become a norm, as with the rap battles and the sudden dance parties at lunch. In the future, there might be even more colors, even more students bustling about. California School of the Arts has finally officially become a school and among the DUSD family of schools.

The three student performers: Natalie Van Ramos, Patrick Geringer, and Catherine ‘Rinn’ Maldonado

As the first sister school of Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), CSArts-SGV hopes to bring the same academic rigor and high-caliber arts instruction to even more students. Currently home to more than 700 seventh to eleventh graders (next year will expand to include grade twelve), students can enroll in one of ten conservatories offered, including acting, classical & contemporary dance, commercial dance, creative writing, instrumental music, integrated arts, musical theatre, production & design, visual arts, and vocal arts, while taking classes any other high school would offer.

As a junior, transferring schools probably isn’t the most recommended move. My friends at my former school asked if I was still going to take AP Chem, thinking, as I had previously thought, that an arts high school would not offer STEM courses. They asked if I would still take APs, or be on a swim or debate team.

I am still taking AP Chem, and am still taking the AP classes my friends are taking at my former high school. Though there is no swim or debate team, there is tae kwon do and lively class discussions. Though there are conservatory classes that make the school day longer, there is an unparalleled level of energy and motivation among students, and though math has never been my favorite subject, I find myself looking forward to my 90-minute math class every other morning.

“I truly think that this school has the ability to bring so much, not only to Duarte, but to the entire Southern California,” Duarte city council board member Samuel Kang affirms. “It’s truly a great school and it gives students the chance not just to pursue the arts but also STEM topics or whatever else they would like to pursue.”

I suppose the difference lies not within the touchscreen Bak devices we were all provided or the shiny new desks and newly painted classrooms. Rather, it lies within the warm and welcoming environment built upon a culture teeming of creativity and respect. Rather than starting off the year drilling facts into our minds, they encourage us, and actively made it possible for us to actively learn and retain the information, not only for the sake of the grade or the test, but also for ourselves.

In the classrooms, teachers teach through active engagement, creating a learning environment where understanding the material is emphasized over the speed of which one reaches the solution. In their conservatories, students share their talents, are inspired by their peers, and grow as artists and people. Understanding the power a teacher has to influence his or her students, every teacher tries makes sure that each student feels as though they can learn whatever subject they take, no matter their previous experience in the topic. They inspire students to build their own unique culture of tolerance, respect, and expression where school is more than a place for learning; they make it a place for growing, finding ourselves, and empowerment.

Principal Dr. William Wallace says, “We want all students to be able to achieve their goals no matter what they are. Whether students want to pursue the arts or professions outside of the arts, CSArts is about making it possible for them to achieve their goals. CSArts is unique because it emphasizes individuality and empowers students to do whatever they really want to do, so whatever they would like to do in the future, they have the skills to go do that.”

A lot of high schoolers end up seeing school as a mundane routine that merely disturbs their sleep cycles and takes the joy out of learning. Oftentimes, instead of seeing school as a place to learn, students end up seeing it as a place to get the grades that will define you and prevent you from truly learning what you want to learn or what you need to learn. And that’s when school gets to be draining and seemingly pointless and suffocating. Although an arts high school might not be for everyone, I am grateful for this arts high school from showing me that the high school experience doesn’t need to be that way.

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