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Songs in the key of school

While Valentino Savala has gone through the normal rigors of reading writing and math to tally his credits for graduation, he discovered his passion by tinkering inside the Lee High School recording studio when he had time outside of class.

“I try to get in here as much as I can during the day and after school,” said Valentino, while in the studio messing with rhythms and beats to create  original recordings.

Valentino is the perfect example of a student who learned a skill and discovered a potential career by being given the space and equipment to experiment, say Lee High School educators. He wants to become a music producer and researched the recording industry and job for his senior capstone project, which all seniors take as preparation for furthering education, training or work.

He said he planned to ask judges during his capstone presentation to write down how his tunes makes them feel, “connecting music to emotion.”

The studio is in a former office within the media center, transformed with all the necessary equipment and software, and painted to serve as an inviting, creative space. The brainchild of former Director of Technology Dan Townsend, the studio has been used by dozens of students since it opened about a year and a half ago.

Senior Valentino Savala and sophomore Elijah Kibbe play some of their recordings

Music As Creative Outlet

Students pop in after school and during lunch, recording song and raps and adjusting beats and bass. They partner up for duets, sing and record songs, and even write tributes. Sophomores Elijah Kibbe and Darvia Beene are producing a song in memory of Elayna Durso, a Spanish teacher who died of breast cancer in December at age 35.

Sarah Wood, technology and media integration specialist, said she loves seeing students create inside the studio without much adult interference. Using music as a creative outlet is meaningful for many teenagers, she said. And while they can use the studio for school work, that’s not its main purpose.

“We never intended this to be used as a class. It was meant to be a place for student passion projects and alternative ways to do assignments. It was really student-led,” Wood said. “It really has spread by word of mouth and students sharing their projects. We don’t monitor everything in here because this is their space, not ours.

Kelly McGee, media specialist and theater director, said students try to stay as late as possible after school to use the room. “The kids know more than we do about any of this stuff,” he said, adding that he’s noticed students improve a lot, through trial and error, in making music.

Elijah, who wants to someday be a software developer, said he goes to the studio to express his emotions.

He first used it to record a rap for a school history assignment, but learned the studio was a great place to hang out and create on his own. He said he works to sound a little like popular rapper Drake.

“A lot of times I use the studio to make beats, Elijah said. “With the software, it’s really easy to do.”

He posts his music on social media. “A lot of my things aren’t school related… I talk about my life, learning how to get better, working to find my voice. I use it to better myself.”


Students Rap, Rhyme Their Way Through U.S. History-Hamilton Style

Students gravitate to the Lee High School Recording Studio to use the equipment

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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