Ahwatukee Foothills' Horizon Community Learning Center has been recognized by Phoenix Magazine for its stellar music department. Every year, Phoenix Magazine selects one school from across the Valley that has the strongest music department and they chose Horizon for the 2009-2010 school year.
"Phoenix Magazine considered a number of aspects, including three of Horizon's five bands ranked ‘superior with distinction' at Arizona's band festival, the music department's trip to Disneyland and special opportunities, such as the Performing Arts Exposition." Horizon chorus teacher Cori VanderLey said, adding that other schools also have strong programs, but that Horizon's stood out last year.
Horizon is a K-12 charter school, which offers unique benefits to the music department.
"I love being able to feed myself; I have the kids in choir since they are fifth-graders, so I can help them prepare for higher level choir, for example, by starting sightseeing at an early age," VanderLay said.
She knows her higher level students' abilities inside and out because she has worked with most of them since they first learned how to sing. The benefits are similar in band. Additionally, this year Brian Murphy, the acclaimed band director at Horizon, has started a tutor program. Top level high school band members are tutoring the beginning level elementary or middle school band members.
"The younger students look up to the older students, and think what they do is so cool. That's the thing about Horizon, being involved in music or performing arts is the ‘cool thing' to do." Vanderley said, adding that the intermediate students (fifth-and sixth-graders) have a choice of taking Spanish or music, and 87 percent of the students choose either band or chorus.
The after-school theater department at Horizon benefits from the K-12 atmosphere with casting younger students to play age appropriate roles in the shows. Last year, intermediate and middle school students were cast as children's ensembles in both Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Music Man.
"There are not too many places you can go and see fifth- through 12th-graders working alongside each other in a mutually supportive and respectful environment, let alone a creative venture," said Cynthia Shaheen, the drama teacher and director of the current show, Arsenic and Old Lace. She started the theater program at Horizon.
"Arsenic and Old Lace is a high school only production, but the students who have been involved in previous shows at all grade levels are clamoring to come and support their fellow thespians," she said.
Shaheen chose this show for the audiences' enjoyment - it is a dark comedy - and specifically for the "potential talent pool" interested in auditioning. The entire cast of Arsenic and Old Lace creates a strong ensemble. The two elderly aunts, played by seniors Tess Hernandez and Rebekah Hughes, could carry the show by themselves; their animated facial expressions and quirky waddle across the stage held an endearing effect over the audience. Not only did the leads develop strong characters, but every actor who appeared on stage shared ample measures of their hard work and talent with audience members.
Arsenic and Old Lace stirred much excitement throughout the Horizon community. Last weekend's shows created anticipation for the upcoming shows this weekend. "The ‘buzz' about the show is out there, because tickets were in demand in the school offices this morning," Shaheen said on Monday, adding that the shows envelop the community tied to Horizon by providing an inexpensive, enjoyable evening out for the entire family.
Amanda Petersen is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a senior at Horizon Honors High School.