Nathan Tokarchuk, left, and Austin Brade give the drum kits in the CLA's music room a workout.

Students have the option of plugging in with an electric guitar.

Alex Monroe strums away on an acoustic guitar.

Elizabeth Quewezance plays guitar with Monroe.

The Beatles, as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, keep watch over the CLA music room.

Owen McInnes creates his own groove on a mixer.

Artwork depicting influential rapper The Notorious B.I.G. graces one of the walls of the classroom.

Rena McEvoy practices with an acoustic guitar.

Music class in tune with CLA programming

For Brielle Derrick, music class at the Centre for Learning Alternatives was so much more than learning how to play instruments and carry a tune.

“It actually encouraged me to come to school,” said Derrick, who took the class last school year as a Grade 11 student. “I would look forward to coming to music because of the jam band, because I was learning how to play the drums and sing a song. I also learned how to play ukulele and I thought that was a great experience.

“As soon as I came to this school, I basically learned everything,” she added. “I learned how to play the bass, the guitar, the drums and, like I said, the ukulele. I also learned how to use the computer for mixing and making your own songs.”

The CLA offers a wide variety of educational services to students, whether they are early learners, adults or somewhere in between. Operating out of the John McInnis Centre in Prince George and also at offsite locations in the community, the CLA’s focus is to provide quality educational opportunities for all.

Walking through the front doors of the CLA building for the first time provides plenty of surprises. There are regular classrooms but visitors will also find – among other spaces – a distance education centre, a fully-equipped woodworking shop, a dedicated art room, a gymnasium with shiny-new flooring, a student lounge and the District Learning Commons, which is the nerve centre of all the libraries in School District No. 57.

And, of course, there’s the music room.

Inside the room, students can perch behind one of two drum kits. They can strum guitars – acoustic or electric. They can play the keyboards or the piano. They can even be their own DJ on music mixers or step inside a sound booth to work on their own recordings.

Conrad Turner, now a vice principal at Prince George Secondary School, is the man who set up the CLA’s music room. These days, it’s the domain of Geoff Dickieson, who’s in his second year at the helm of the music program.

CLA students can take courses like art, P.E. and music as electives. This school year, close to 20 students attend music class. Dickieson says the introduction of electives into CLA programming for high school students has created a positive spinoff effect – the same one referenced by Derrick.

“It has really increased attendance, the electives that we’re offering,” Dickieson said. “I found that last year, that it really helped with my students (in academic courses).

“Music is a thing that we all share – everyone likes music. You unveil a bit of yourself to people when you share your musical tastes so it helps kids drop the wall that they put up to deal with stuff that they deal with in their regular life. As a form of creative expression it’s really important to do music. If you can’t draw and you can’t write, then music is the thing that’s left for you.”

Dickieson’s music students learn instrumental music and also recording arts – things like podcasting, rap, spoken word and audio editing. They’re even getting a taste of some of the mainstream curriculum.

“We’re trying to bring in all the English requirements so that’s why I’m setting up on Wednesday mornings, to have kids do oral essays and oral answering of questions,” Dickieson said. “That’s kind of a favourite hobby of mine, audio production. We’re doing some community connection too. We have CFUR (UNBC’s campus radio station) coming in here regularly to work with kids.”

Jam band, in which students perform pieces they’ve been working on, is another component of the CLA’s music class.

“When we do the jam band it’s really a confidence-building thing because you’re standing up in front of your peers and putting yourself out there,” Dickieson said. “As a teacher I find that’s not hard at all, just to get up in front of a group, but to these kids that’s terrifying. So (jam band) teaches them to do that in a constructive way.”

Another major way students benefit from music class is that it gives them access to instruments and technology that might otherwise be out of reach for them.

“Drums are expensive, and guitars are expensive,” Dickieson said, and then gestured to the sound booth in one corner of the room. “And this recording studio, even without the whisper room and just the equipment, is five grand. So having access to this stuff is really important for the kids that we have here.”

To contact the Centre for Learning Alternatives, call 250-564-6574 or 1-800-661-7515. The John McInnis Centre is located at 3400 Westwood Drive.