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Finding a home in the arts

The students follow their instructor’s steps.

Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation students discover family in welcoming environment

By stepping into the open and welcoming local arts program known as the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation, the scene is filled by 300 children and teens entering their classes, preparing for their performances in a place considered safe and accepting. Paso High students such as Luis Salas, Kimberly Mercado, Zaira Gomez, Leslie Ramirez, and Adilene Gomez have transformed an art foundation into a home where they can freely express their passions.

 “The environment at PRYAF could be described as a place where everyone is just pure and genuine. You can just feel the hard work that we all put into our art, and you can of course feel the love. We are all just one big family that cares for each other,” said sophomore Salas, who has attended the program for two years. This is a feeling commonly shared among students there.

      Salas, who is currently taking urban dance, break dance, jazz, hip hop, and creative dance, has had the opportunity of forming bonds with students at PRYAF that have surpassed the walls in the dance room. One friendship is with junior Gomez, which has grown and continued on at school, and she has expressed great admiration for the program.

It’s the happiest place you would ever want to be at; it’s not only the students who are kind but also the teachers. Kunchang Lee is one of the most outstanding teachers there is; he’s been a great friend and an awesome teacher that I’ve improved so much in his urban dance competition team.”

       The overflowing amount of support between students and staff is contagious. The encouragement offered is a part of the compelling environment made to make students feel at home. Having support in flexible schedules, allowing students to be able to balance other extracurriculars, and keeping a positive attitude are all factors in how PRYAF creates a welcoming environment.

        One recent example was in the development of their January Revue show. “One of my teachers, Ms. Amanda, always says to leave the negativity and thought of school work outdoors, but to bring some of your personality in with you as well. The teachers at PRYAF definitely try their hardest to always be with their students and to encourage them to be inspired by others; their schedules can be just as busy, but they for sure work with flexible hours,” freshman Zaria Gomez explained in how she manages her five classes at the foundation, her understanding relationship with the teachers, and her school work.

        Having about 300 students enrolled per quarter, the program can become busy and lively, especially when preparing for a show at the end of each quarter and sometimes more, depending on the class. “We put on shows every three months or so. Drama, as well, puts on their separate shows. For example, this year we are doing three shows: two plays and one musical,” junior Ramirez, an advanced drama student at PRYAF and at the high school, stated.

       Although so many students attend PRYAF and the students can range in ages from five to eighteen, it still has the ability in creating a tight-knit community within itself. “PRYAF has created a safe place for me. It’s my home and the people there are my family,” senior Mercado expressed, who is currently in advanced hip-hop, advanced break dance, the urban dance competition team, and a part of advanced dance at the high school.

 “At PRYAF, we believe the arts are vital to the cognitive growth of our children’s development. It is our student’s internal strength that allows them to shine. PRYAF teachers are not only talented artists and performers, but mentors who share their life’s passions,” Executive Director Mindy Dierks stated.

        With the new quarter of classes now in session, more opportunities are given to students in pursuing their passions. That means more chances to be learning new lessons, sharing more laughs, forming new friendships, and becoming a part of the home to many at PRYAF.

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