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>From the city to the suburbs

By DANIEL HENDERSON - NeXt Correspondent

I believe the most astonishing quality of life is our ability to explore the unknown. I've always been a curious kid, and I have a particular interest in cultures and viewpoints that are foreign to me. Clarence High School undoubtedly falls under that category, and I was immediately drawn to the proposal of attending a high school that I knew nothing about for a day.

Clarence sophomore Danielle Grimm was my escort for the adventure, and I would be following her typical Wednesday schedule. Despite my strong desire to explore, I also had a natural fear of the unknown. I wondered if the school would be a friendly tight-knit community, or a mess of cliques and separation. I was nervous of being judged -- a feeling I hadn't felt in years. I feared being viewed differently because of the stereotypes when it comes to suburban high schools. Snotty. Rich. Bigoted. I, of course, know that suburbs do not generally portray this stereotype, but my jitters were a representation of how other people's words can subconsciously affect the mind.

Because of my nervousness, I couldn't sleep well the night before I visited the school.

While Clarence High School's student population is primarily composed of white students, my school -- Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts -- has an ethnically diverse community. Teenagers at Clarence attend the school because it's where they live, while students accepted to the Arts Academy have a particular field of education, or "major," that they study. I've been attending Arts as a theater major since fifth grade, and because I was a year ahead in math and science, I have the opportunity to study Vocal Music this year as well. Imagining attending a school without a major sounded as ridiculous to me as an atheist joining a gospel choir.

I woke up an hour earlier than I usually do and got ready to attend Clarence High School. I packed food and brought some money to buy dinner, because I'd be staying after school with Danielle until 8 p.m. for her after-school activities. The fact that some of the teachers are willing to stay after until that hour impressed me, and immediately reflected that the teachers at Clarence High School are passionate in giving the students the opportunity to take part in a plethora of after-school activities.

My father eventually pulled up to the building, and I walked into the front entrance. I looked at the beautiful works of art in the foyer and met with Danielle. She seemed enthusiastic about me being there, and greeted me with a warm welcome.

Danielle informed me that gym was her first class of the day, and she walked me in the right direction. We walked into the gym, which was easily four times larger then the one at my school. I marveled at the trophies the school had collected, and inferred that Clarence High School had a serious sports program. Mrs. Stefan, one of the gym teachers, gave me a kind greeting and shook my hand as she welcomed me to the school.

I was getting smiles from some of the students, and felt a lot more comfortable than I thought I would, given how drastically different the atmosphere was from my school. Although the majority of the students seemed friendly, I overheard some students saying cruel things about a freshman who was doing laps around the gym. It made me feel uncomfortable, and I felt sympathy for the kid being picked on.

Danielle then took me to the weight room for the rest of her gym period. She introduced me to some of her friends, and I took the opportunity to ask if the cliche cliques that exist in films and on TV shows were a reality in the typical suburban school.

"So are there cliques in this high school?" I asked one of Danielle's friends.

"Well, yeah I guess. But it's not hard to be a floater and go in between them," the student replied. "I don't think social separation is too much of a problem at Clarence."

I smiled, and sighed.

The next three periods consisted of Chemistry, French and Algebra II & Trig. None of these classes seemed out of the ordinary, and they were run like a typical class at BAVPA. I noticed that Clarence had the same interactive white boards and equipment, and I felt fortunate to have an up-to-date school despite it being a public city school.

The next class in Danielle's day interested me a great deal. Clarence High School's highly praised Treble Chorus would be rehearsing this period. The director of the chorus, Mrs. Merntz, informed me she was once a student of Frank Scinta, the well-loved Select Choir director at Performing Arts.

The choir began a warm-up that was entirely out of my range (Treble Chorus is an all-female group), and began to rehearse. The girls blew me away with their knowledge of music theory, and the class seemed enjoyable.

The rest of the school day included AP World History, Theatre and English. Once again, these classes progressed as expected, as nothing unusual or surprising happened. The students were attentive, and the teachers were enlightening. I could see that there was a great deal of teacher-to-student respect throughout the entire school.

After the last period of the school day, we walked through the crowded halls to get to Danielle's locker. As I was standing there, I heard some homophobic and racist comments addressed to one of the students walking to the bus. It made me think about the bullying epidemic that's been making headlines. I was disappointed with the situation, and I wished that the boy that made those comments knew how much hurt his words may have caused.

Danielle and I walked to her play rehearsal, where she was working as the assistant director of "The Miracle Worker." I observed as the theater teacher, Frank Aquillina, provided seamless direction. All of the actors involved performed far beyond my expectations, and many of the performances were beyond the level of some professionals I've worked with in the past.

The rehearsal left me grinning and enthusiastic to buy a ticket to the show.

After play rehearsal, we ate a quick dinner and began to rehearse for Vocal Jazz Ensemble. This is what I was looking forward to all day, because I'm a huge fan of the genre, and I'm a member of the Vocal Jazz Ensemble at BAVPA. With the first note, I could tell they were going to sound good. The ensemble blended beautifully, and I was thoroughly enjoying every minute of the rehearsal. Lou Shafer is a fantastic vocal coach and knew exactly what kind of sound he wanted for each measure of music. The students delivered, and sang beautifully.

This was by far the highlight of my day, and time flew by. Before I knew it, the clock read 8 p.m., and my father was outside the school. My day had ended, and I found the overall experience exceptionally enjoyable.

Clarence High School and Peforming Arts are two drastically different schools, the biggest difference being the social structure. At Clarence High School it's impossible to know everyone in your grade, let alone everyone in your school, while at Performing Arts, it's much easier to do that. If you walk into my school, the chances of someone coming up to you and talking to you are relatively high, and I didn't feel as if that were the case at Clarence. About six people talked to me the entire day I was there, and I expected more people to be curious about who I was. Although there were some things I disliked about the school, such as the bullying I witnessed, the music and theater programs are far ahead of what I would expect from a typical public school.

I can tell that the staff members and administration do the best work they can to provide every student with a well-rounded education, and I commend them for that. From what I've observed, these kids were not snotty, rich or bigoted like some city kids might assume. They were eager to learn, generally friendly and passionate about the arts and academics. I'm absolutely thrilled that I had the opportunity to visit this high school and gain yet another perspective of the world.

Daniel Henderson is a sophomore at Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts.

***

'High school melting pot'

By DANIELLE GRIMM - NeXt Correspondent

When the opportunity of a school swap to Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts presented itself, I accepted the invitation without a second thought. Being an avid 'gleek' and theater lover, I was ecstatic to visit a school that offered so many learning opportunities in those subjects.

However, as the day of the visit was drawing nearer, I realized I was much more nervous than previously anticipated. I am ashamed to admit that my nervousness was rooted in the common stereotype of inner city schools -- loud, violent and uneducated teenagers causing trouble whenever they pleased. I reminded myself that the suburban definition of an inner city teenager was, for the most part, an incorrect generalization. Still, my inner pessimist argued that the stereotypes would prove to be true. After a long and sleepless night of arguing with myself, I woke up on Nov. 4 eager to see the school for myself.

As soon as I walked through the back door of BAVPA, all of my preconceived notions disappeared. I found myself in a high school melting pot, surrounded by people of every ethnicity and race. I was certain of two things at that point. First, Performing Arts was radically different from Clarence High. Second, I was in for a very interesting day.

I proceeded to wander around the first floor until my talented escort, sophomore Daniel Henderson, located me. As we made our way to theater class, he explained to me the way the students created their schedules. The students auditioned for a major (Daniel double majors this year in vocal performance and theater) and took classes according to their major. I grew very jealous very fast. As we continued through the school, I couldn't help but notice the substantial amount of people Daniel was greeting in the hallway. It seemed like he was everyone's friend. Because of the sheer size of Clarence's student body and the school itself, it's quite difficult to run into 15 of your friends in one hallway. When I told him how unusually social I thought he was, he grinned and said, "Am I really? I didn't really notice. It's not all that different for me." I quickly realized there was no such thing as being too friendly at Performing Arts.

As we entered Mrs. Beuth's theater room, I was bombarded with hugs and friendly greetings from Daniel's friends, which was pretty much the whole class. By the time the class started, I had hugged around 20 people, some more than once. Not that I minded, of course. I've always been a hugger.

Not only was Ms. Beuth one of the kindest teachers I met all day, the woman really knew how to manage a room full of theater majors. She began the class with an improvisational acting session. If the class became too loud or too rambunctious, she simply had to tell them to tone it down and they obliged. I'm not sure why her class ran so smoothly, but it appeared to be the result of a mutual respect, which created a very nice student-teacher relationship. Although we had two straight periods of theater, I was amused more than a kid in a candy store the entire time.

I'll be honest. I didn't expect AP world history to be as entertaining as it was. Even if the other students weren't having such a good time, Mr. Houck was delivering the lecture in a way that was both frightening and amusing at the same time. Even if his tone of voice was unintentional, I could tell he was very serious about his work and for that, I appreciated him.

Our next class was AP language and composition. When Daniel informed me he would be shooting a commercial, I thought he was joking. Upon entering the room, however, he and his group were immediately given a pass to roam the school and film their commercial for polysyndeton-riddlin, an imaginary drug for people who speak too fast. It was unlike any English class I had ever attended, in a good way though. The class was the equivalent of a Studio in Video class at Clarence.

The next two classes were by far the highlight of my day. Vocal Jazz with George Davis and Select Choir with Frank Scinta. I had been looking forward to these classes all day, and I am not exaggerating when I say I was completely blown away by the talent and professionalism of both groups. With the help of my guide, soprano Vanessa Elder, I was permitted to sing in both classes. Although Clarence's music program is one of the most noteworthy in the county, it was very apparent the students in these groups were studying music full time. With Davis on piano, vocal jazz ran through as many songs as they could get through in one period; my favorites being "Butterfly" and a Michael Jackson medley.

After a lesson with Davis, Daniel and I were off to Select Choir. The group did a very patriotic warm up, singing several pro-America songs and the Canadian national anthem. After that, the choir got right to work. The entire rehearsal was nonstop singing and running through songs, and I was absolutely entranced the entire 40 minutes. Davis and Scinta were not only fabulous teachers, they were extremely gifted musicians. Their musical wisdom and genius seemed to radiate throughout the room. I attempted to absorb as much of their knowledge as humanly possible, in hopes of leaving the school a better musician.

During his Algebra 2/Trigonometry class, Daniel attended a voice lesson with Davis. I observed intently as Daniel was given a song to work on, then expertly guided in the right direction. He received more individual attention in the lesson than Clarence students do, but that is understandable considering my lessons can have up to 10 people in them at once.

After a relaxing Studio and Crafts class to end the school day, I was then taken to the Black Box theater to observe the rehearsal for the musical, "Violet." I had never heard of the show before that day, but every song from the production is now in my iTunes library. The brief music rehearsal that took place before the read-through had my feet tapping to the beat of each song. Once the read-through began, though, I could tell their director meant business. Lorna C. Hill, director of Ujima Theatre, wasted no time. If she was dissatisfied with the tone of an actor's voice, she told them to change it. If a student read their line wrong, she called them out. As strict as she was, there was no doubt in my mind that Hill was going to bring an outstanding performance out of the cast.

My day at BAVPA opened my eyes to many things, such as the diversity of schools outside the suburbs. I also came to understand that city teenagers and suburban teenagers are more alike than most people imagine. Both groups have good kids and bad kids, and both groups are, for the most part, accepting and helpful to a new face in their school. This goes to show that no matter where you grow up, where you go to work or where you go to school, everyone shares the same moral instinct to make each other comfortable and happy, even if this quality is more apparent in some people than others.

Danielle Grimm is a sophomore at Clarence High School.