Justin Hicks and Brody Severinski sit in a small classroom, about three metres square, in the Arthur Peake building with only one table-top fan circulating the air.
The pair ignores the heat of the room as they stare at two computer screens intently adjusting the levels and compressions of a rap song that is playing.
Hicks, an audio engineer with a studio in Surrey, offers Severinski advice on whispered lyrics in the song.
“Those vocals, I just want to make sure you want them like that. They come in quite a bit louder than the rest,” said Hicks, his voice drowned out as Severinski goes back to place where the vocals kicked in.
The Grade 11 student quickly agrees, making the appropriate adjustments.
Severinski is learning about the recording arts, a new class in the alternative Connex program offered by the school district.
The Connex Program is a transitional part-time program for students 12 to 19 years old, who have been out of school or are at risk of being out of school because of behaviours (e.g., anxiety, depression) that make it difficult for them to function in a regular setting.
Severinski first attended Thomas Haney secondary but became disinterested in school and almost dropped out before he entered the Connex Program.
In this class, he learns about music production, audio engineering, and recording, using the industry standard software called ProTools, that can be used not just for recording music but for video game audio, film audio and broadcasting.
Hicks teaches the class from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for 12 to 15 students who attend throughout the week. Sometimes he has four or five students at one time and sometimes it is just one-on-one.
Severinski enjoys rapping and making music.
“It’s the story. You can really tell a story with a rap. A lot of my stuff I talk about problems that I see in society or just like personal problems,” he said, adding that he finds it easy to make words rhyme.
Right now Severinski is working on his first album. Hicks says that even before he started working on it he was the most disciplined and dedicated student in the program.
“Every morning he was here before me,” said Hicks.
Severinski says he gets much more than simply making music from the class.
“I can get English and math and science from making music,” said Severinski.
“If I am making a beat, that can be used for math because you are dealing with quarter notes, 16th notes. Or English, I can just give them my lyrics and tell them what (the rap) is about,” he said.
The recording class is new this year.
The program was moved to the Arthur Peake Centre two years ago from its previous location at Old Yennadon.
At their old location they had a gym where the students could work out on treadmills, ellipticals and weights, and a properly ventilated woodworking shop. Now, they have neither and the staff have had to come up with creative ways to engage the students.
“We have all of these really high-energy kids who often have externalizing behaviours when they are anxious or upset and no physical outlet,” said Melanie Harris, a teacher with the alternate program.
So they started a running club and participated in the Sun Run, they started a hiking club and mountain biking club where they also learn how to fix and build mountain bikes.
Students also go fly-fishing and learn how to make and tie flies. They have partnered with a gym in Pitt Meadows where lessons have been offered to the students in mixed martial arts.
Harris says the school has a unique way of delivering curriculum with a focus on cross-curriculum learning instead of one subject area. This year, she said, students learned about eco-systems by breeding tree frogs.
The centre has been promised two new steel buildings by the school district to house a gym and a shop for woodworking, carpentry and welding classes.
However, to date, only the foundations have been excavated.
Irena Pochop with the school district, said the original plan was to have the structures in place for September 2018, but unexpected delays with the design and tender process pushed the deadline to mid-January, 2019.
This deadline, she said, was pushed again to allow more required changes.
They have received the revised drawings have brought them to the city this past week, Pochop said.
The prefabs should be in place by September 2019, she added.
The new classes have done a lot to increase engagement with students, said Harris.
“We’re trying to focus on what they do well and build a curriculum around that,” she said.