In underserved communities, students typically have less access to an arts education and receive significantly less exposure to the arts compared to their more affluent peers. To change that, Ánimo Venice Charter High School provides students with both a rigorous core curriculum and an arts education. At Ánimo Venice, art is more than a series of classes, it’s a program that offers a gateway to the human experience and an opportunity for authentic learning to teach students about themselves in relationship to the world around them.
A Well-Rounded Education
Paired with a high quality college-preparatory curriculum, Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and a strong arts program, students interested in the arts graduate Ánimo Venice with a robust artistic skill set and are well prepared for the rigours of college. It is one of the reasons why Lorraine Gutierrez, a senior at Ánimo Venice, rides four buses each day to attend the school. “My dad always loved art, but growing up in Mexico his family had financial issues and he wasn’t able to afford art classes or the supplies,” shared Gutierrez. “I think that's what made him want his kids to be involved in the arts: because it’s something he didn’t have access to.” Due to the lack of an arts education at the nearby traditional schools, her parents sought out opportunities outside of the school day.
When Gutierrez was in sixth grade, her family discovered Venice Arts, an organization whose mission to ignite, expand, and transform the lives of youth from underserved communities through photography and film education. It was through that program that Gutierrez held a professional camera for the first time, and it sparked an interest within her that eventually led her to attend Ánimo Venice. “My parents wanted me to get a better education than the surrounding schools could provide. Ánimo Venice offered more AP classes and smaller class sizes,” recalled Gutierrez.
At Ánimo Venice, Gutierrez has taken courses that have challenged her academically and creatively. There are three levels of art courses at Ánimo Venice: introductory, advanced and AP. Once students have mastered introductory and advanced courses, they are able to choose from AP Drawing, AP 2D Art, or AP Photography. In her AP art courses, Gutierrez is working towards a photography concentration while advancing her technical skills to create a portfolio of her best work that will be critiqued and graded by The College Board.
Though Gutierrez came to Ánimo Venice with some photography skills, the program has pushed the way she views art and the world. “Lorraine came to Ánimo Venice with a level of skill and focus, but what I've encouraged her to think as an artist and photographer, and not just react,” said John Kannofsky, art teacher at Ánimo Venice. Kannofsky takes an interdisciplinary approach to arts education--students are challenged to incorporate knowledge they learn in his classes, their other courses, and personal experiences to create art that is emotionally and intellectually significant. “Many Renaissance artists were not only artists but engineers. They saw art as a place where technology, mathematics, and philosophy connect in the creation of a work of art,” said Kannofsky.
Gutierrez has welcomed the approach. Inspired by her heritage, her family and her Catholic traditions, Gutierrez is currently using photography to explore religion and superstition in a still life photography series which she hopes to include in her portfolio. Gutierrez has applied to many schools but hopes to attend Washington University in St. Louis, where she’s like to major in physics and minor in photography. She is grateful for her parent's dedication to ensuring she and her siblings received a well-rounded education.
Cultivating New Career Interests
Exposure to the arts not only improves academic achievement, but also introduces students to diverse career opportunities they might not have considered otherwise. “Ánimo Venice helped me grow into the person I am today and I couldn’t be more happy about that,” said Nathan Dagnachew, a junior at Ánimo Venice. During his freshman year, he attended Animo Venice’s annual career day, which introduces students to a variety of careers and opportunities to engage with industry professionals.
In one session that Dagnachew chose to attend, a filmmaker and writer working at Comedy Central spoke to students about her work and career history. “After that day a lightbulb went off in my head. I started researching filmmaking, and messed around with an old camera my parents had at home,” reflected Dagnachew. At the time, Ánimo Venice’s didn’t offer filmmaking courses, but Dagnachew was determined to explore his passion. He began asking his teachers for extra projects and support in his newfound passion, for his physics final project Dagnachew created a short film with the help of his friends.
His experiences at Ánimo Venice inspired Dagnachew to engage with the arts in his community, and he eventually discovered Venice Arts as well. Using what he’s learned at school and from Venice Arts, he hopes to film and produce a documentary about first time voters in Venice.
Dagnachew has been able to grow his passion beyond a hobby and is envisioning a career in filmmaking. “My teachers have taught me that I have to follow my dreams and passion no matter what, but to follow them in a smart way,” said Dagnachew. He hopes to attend UC Berkeley to join their undergraduate film program. “Art gave me an outlet. I’m not the best at math or English, but every time I use a camera I feel happy and accomplished. And once I get to college I’ll have more opportunities to pursue my dreams, and that’s exciting.”