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Valley arts school gets creative to keep students learning during the pandemic

Arizona School for the Arts
Posted at 9:45 PM, Apr 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-26 01:52:08-04

If you have driven by 3rd Street and McDowell in downtown Phoenix for the past 25 years, you have probably seen Arizona School for the Arts.

Venture inside and you will hear hundreds of 5th through 12th graders hard at work, honing their skills in music, dance and theater.

"We do have some graduates in Hollywood," said Head of School and CEO Leah Fregulia.

However, Fregulia warns not to let the school's name fool you.

Only about 15% of students go on to a career in the performing arts, while many of the others trade the stage to headline careers in STEM fields or Humanities.

Senior Aaliyah Thompson Mazzeo is one of those students.

"I can use my studies in movement and dance to study prosthetics," she said.

Ian Nussdorfer is a junior studying jazz performance.

"The interaction between people and how that can build up so much energy," he said. "I also have an interest in sound engineering, I also find that really cool."

Like students across the country Aaliyah, Ian and the more than 800 students on ASA's campus spent most of this past year learning remotely. The school just resumed full-time in-person learning on April 12.

"I was dancing in my dining room, which is about an 8x8 space, so not a lot of space," said Thompson Mazzeo.

"We tried to replicate our classes as much as possible in the remote environment; however, we made changes," said Fregulia. "We really learned how to focus on what is essential to our program, and that's both on the academic and the performing arts side."

Band classes now practice outside.

Dance and choir take over one of the parking lots, at times extending to a newly rented space in the church next door.

Some students have chosen to remain remote, so teachers instruct online and in-person at the same time.

It has not been easy, but there have been some silver linings.

"It definitely taught us to be more sustainable in how we produce our art and show it to the world," said Thompson Mazzeo.

School leaders tell ABC15 they do not yet know what next year will look like but say their mission will remain the same.

The mission would be to help students hit all the right notes in whatever path they choose.

"Even when kids come in with stars in their eyes, thinking they're going to be on stage, we want to make sure they know there's an array of opportunities available," said Fregulia.