Tylor Charoenpojana, an 18-year-old Virginia Beach, Va., senior with long blond-brown hair and tattoo-covered arms, comes to high school 20 minutes early each day—for fun.
Charoenpojana is composing music in Fred Montgomery’s music classroom in Renaissance Academy before their 7:25 a.m. class. He uses music composition software from Apple Inc. called GarageBand, and he wants to expand his 96-second composition to six or seven minutes and add several instruments to the string, synthesizer, and rain sounds on the track. He’s been working on the piece for three weeks.
Charoenpojana is one of 13 students enrolled in GarageBand in the Classroom, for teens at Virginia Beach’s alternative academy. The class has been packed since it was first offered two years ago, and a sequel, GarageBand II, is being added to the curriculum.
“Kids involved in school music programs have higher graduation rates than those [who are] not. It’s really simple,” said John Brewington, fine arts coordinator for Virginia Beach schools. “Kids [who] can identify with something they really like at school will gravitate to and want to continue doing that. This motivates them in other classes as well.”
GarageBand in the Classroom is the only class of its kind in the school division, Brewington said. Students use software to compose virtual instrumental tracks and repeating loops of music.
Schools typically offer orchestra, band, and choir classes. This program relies less on group involvement than traditional music classes, which have fared poorly at the city’s alternative schools, Brewington said.
“Even if some of the kids are not contributing at the same level or what have you, everybody gets a chance,” Brewington said. “We’re trying to get out of the ensemble mentality.”
Montgomery starts each morning with a presentation and lesson guidelines, then lets the students work on their own while he gives advice. For a music class, the room is eerily silent. A row of students facing computers lines the walls. Like pilots in airplane cockpits, each wears huge earphones. The “control panel” is a short keyboard students use to create drumbeats and other sounds by punching buttons or manipulating a mouse.