STOCKTON — Students in a classroom intently glide paint brushes on paper.

At one end of the main room, students are working with clay. Down the hall, another group is learning how to digitally record music. Next door, more students are strumming ukuleles. And, in a quiet room nearby, students are working on projects.

It’s a recent Wednesday at the One.Charter Bianchi Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, the day of the week when the curriculum centers on creativity and possibilities.

“Right now, they are painting leaves,” said math and science teacher Shalonda Thomas. “Sometimes, it’s paints. Sometimes, it’s hands on. They do sculpture and whatever comes to mind. It’s a relaxing environment.”

One.Charter Bianchi offers an alternative learning environment focused on a small, intimate setting where students bond with their teachers and classmates. The school was opened in 2010 by the San Joaquin County Office of Education with a $750,000 start-up grant. The following year, the school moved from its original location on Douglass Road in Stockton to its current address on Bianchi Road. In 2012, the county opened a second site in Manteca.

Janine Kaeslin, assistant superintendent of county operated schools and programs, said when the county’s administrative team talked about the potential offerings to provide the students and community, they explored several different focused areas.

“But the visual and performing arts was a no-brainer for us” she said. “The research with regard to brain growth and development with the arts, the self-confidence, the therapeutic components, the opportunities to perform and build on a skill set and have a creative environment to grow and shine. Many times, students don’t have a platform to express themselves.”

Among the keys to the program has been the close relationships the students have developed with their teachers and administrators, who deliver a curriculum of core studies and the arts to build hope, self-esteem, confidence, self-reliance, problem-solving skills, mentorship and leadership.

There currently are about 90 students attending One.Charter Bianchi from the seventh grade to the 12th grade. Fifty percent of the students are parent-referred. Some are referred by social workers or the probation department. Some are homeless. Some have suffered trauma at home or elsewhere.

“When new students come to us, we see what the right fit is,” said Stephanie Omste, a site administrator at five county schools, including One.Charter Bianchi. “We have really strong teachers, but they’re really patient with our students, so you’ll see a lot of relationships with kids. It’s very intimate. Suspension is never the first step, especially at this school site because we have a really good team.”

Jaymes Pendergraft, 15, has taken on the role of sound engineer in teacher Charles Ware’s recording studio.

“Whenever I come up with anything that’s right off the top of my head, I normally forget about it,” Pendergraft said. “That’s why I try to write everything down as soon as possible. I always have a pen and paper at all times.”

Ware said his students are learning how to operate digital recording equipment and have the opportunity to work on music as a team.

“It’s cool because a lot of them have their own things that they like to do,” Ware said. “Some of them rap and sing. We have a few students that write their own material and find the instrumental track and put their lyrics to that.”

Lily Melton, 16, said she was failing her classes and was so shy and insecure she had a hard time speaking with her teachers at her previous school.

“At first, I didn’t know this site,” she said, “but as I soon as I got here I felt comfortable.”

Melton said she has turned herself around academically and is earning straight A’s. She is a member of the student leadership team and has a beautiful singing voice, a skill she didn’t know she had prior to enrolling at the academy. Melton said her future looks much brighter, and she hopes to study cosmetology or child psychology.

“I came here and got to know the teachers and each teacher I had had their own communication and relationships and bond,” she said, “so it’s easier to talk to the teachers.”

Aja Peterson, 17, was skipping classes and had failing grades. She said she was kicked out of high school as a freshman in Fresno.

“A lot of stuff started happening in my life,” she said. “I was slacking off.”

Peterson moved to Stockton and learned about One.Charter Bianchi through a family member attending the school.

“It really helped because I was doing badly,” said Peterson, who paints and plays piano and wants to pursue a medical career. “My grades now are almost perfect. I don’t know what it is: the teachers, the environment, it’s something in this school.”

Peterson also is on the leadership team that has volunteered at several community events, including Earth Day, The Record’s Literacy & Book Fair Family Day at the Park and the Great Valley Bookfest in Manteca. The students also help grammar school-aged children from TEAM Charter Bianchi with their reading skills.

“It makes you feel good about yourself,” Peterson said. “They treat us like rock stars. It’s like, ‘Wow!’ I might be doing something right because I know where I messed up.

“I can always mentor another set of kids. Something I say might stick with them because I know something a teacher might say to me might stick with me the rest of my life.”

Students create, produce and perform showcases, display their artwork and invent icebreaker games for their audiences. They recently put on a showcase and are working on another for the spring.

This year, Omste hopes to partner with the University of the Pacific’s Jazz Studies program and develop a mentorship program where leaders in the community work with the students.

“Another great advantage of this focus is that our community embraces it and comes to us as well,” Kaeslin said. “It gives our students a connection to our community, and they see it as a way to give back and provide enrichment to our community through the arts.”

 

Contact reporter Bob Highfill at (209) 546-8277 or jhighfill@recordnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobhighfill.