By Alyssa Penman
The Peanuts gang took over the High Desert Center for the Performing Arts this weekend as the Encore Junior High School performed “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” The young cast was enthusiastic and showed a gift for comedy, giving the familiar characters new life.
Paula Gharib, the school’s theater director and academic testing director, was proud of her students and the opportunities Encore High School gives them. “All of their energy goes to studies and rehearsal,” she said. The charter school, located in Hesperia, pushes students to reach their potential both academically and artistically. Though most productions are cast from the student body of 700 students in grades 7 through 12, this play showcases the talents of the junior high students. “The experience allows the younger students to take on bigger roles,” said Ms. Gharib.
Parents of the cast feel it is a valuable experience too. Tiffany Martin shared that they were considering homeschooling her daughter when they discovered Encore. “This school gave her another opportunity,” she said. At the arts-focused school her passion for acting is encouraged, instead of frowned upon. Another parent, Terri Eddy, agreed and said that students get a “well-rounded education and parents sign a contract to volunteer each semester.” This creates an environment where creative students can thrive.
Most of the students began acting in early elementary school in school plays or with youth organizations like First Act or Shenanigans. A few students are enjoying the opportunity to explore a number of artistic pursuits at the school, but others are clear that acting is their passion and they hope to go on to careers on Broadway. Chorus member Rebecca Martin summed up the opinions of most of the students: “The academics are great and even in regular classes you are in front of the class, presenting.” Her fellow chorus member Destiny Haas agrees. “The classes are really fun, not boring!”
Ryan Rodriguez played the title character and showed the joyous side of the often morose Charlie Brown. “Acting is running through my blood,” he said and Encore “has helped me to push myself.” He appreciates that there is tutoring available and the range of electives is so wide.
Bailey Doss, the self-professed goofball who played Linus with a flair for physical comedy, also appreciates his experiences so far at Encore. “It’s not like any school I’ve ever gone to,” he said. “They push you to your potential.” Doss’s electives include guitar and tap dancing for PE.
Heather Eddy (Snoopy) and Raquel Rodriguez (Woodstock) were a great team throughout the show, with Woodstock miming in lock step with Snoopy through the production. Though Rodriguez had no lines, “It was still fun hearing people laugh, making them laugh,” she said. Both are excellent students. According to Rodriguez, “you do good in school and still be cool.” And Eddy’s wide range of classes includes violin, choir, costume design and lyrical dance for PE, demonstrating the many talents students at Encore can express.
Arts are not the only avenue available to students at Encore. Sarah Adkins, who brought force and sass to the character of Lucy, also wants to participate in mock trial and do well enough in her studies to be valedictorian. Tiara Turnipseed, who played the Little Red-Haired Girl enjoys playing volleyball at the school.
Nearly every student said that the ability to be themselves at Encore had a big impact as well. Destiny Haas said that the arts school is unique because “It’s a place where you can be yourself.” Brooklyn Velasco has made quality friendships there and the students are less judgmental of someone who has different hair or dresses differently. The director Ms. Gharib agrees. “We have students who felt they had to wear so much makeup and dress a certain way to fit in at their old school. At Encore they can just be themselves.”
Clearly the school is meeting a need for these talented students. In an educational culture where the arts are the first thing to be cut, these students have found a safe place to express themselves.
Encore High School has a number of performances coming up, including Rock N’ Roll Circus February 11th and 12th. And for younger children, First Act Productions will present Alice in Wonderland February 25th and 26th. Parents who are interested in finding out more about enrollment for Encore High School (grades 7-12) can contact the office for a scheduled tour and enrollment package.