Before this school year, Casmine Blanchard, a 10th-grader at Fairmont Heights High School in Capitol Heights, said she enjoyed school, but it wasn’t always her top priority.
“Last year I liked coming to school,” said Casmine, 15, of Seat Pleasant. “But now I’m focused on coming every day.”
She said she became inspired when the school’s disc jockey class made its debut at the start of the academic year; Casmine said she aspires to become a professional disc jockey.
“If I don’t come, I can’t be a DJ,” Casmine said.
The new hourlong class is an elective open to all students in all grade levels, but the program was conceived to target “at-risk students.” The class meets daily during the last period of the school day.
Principal Nakia Nicholson said the class has improved attendance and greatly reduced the numbers of disciplinary referrals and suspensions. Nicholson said she did not have statistics on the drop in disciplinary action since the fall semester was not yet over, but said attendance among those students who had trouble in the past has doubled so far this year.
Nicholson said the idea for a disc jockey class came during a conversation she had last school year with in-school suspension coordinator DaShawn Dillard and building supervisor Phillip White, who she discovered both moonlight as DJs.
“They had noticed a lot of the students were musically inclined,” she said, referring to at-risk youths at the school. “So we thought, wouldn’t it be cool to offer that class in school?”
Dillard and White teach the 15-student class, in addition to continuing their regular duties, using a combination of equipment they donated and around $5,000 worth of equipment purchased through the school’s discretionary budget.
In addition to learning disc jockey techniques, students are taught about sound engineering, the history of music and deejaying, different genres as well as entrepreneurship.
“The traditional business classes in high school are about creating and marketing a product,” Nicholson said. “In this class, it’s about the students marketing themselves.”
Dillard said the class not only helps the students academically and behaviorally, but offers a sort of “cool down” period at the end of a stressful school day.
“Academically, some might be struggling, but this serves as an outlet for them,” Dillard said. “It helps them in other subjects, in part because they actually want to be here at school now.”
Eleventh-grader Leland Allen, 16, of Seat Pleasant said he appreciates the benefits he gains from the class.
“It’s a reliever because I get to learn about music, which a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do,” he said.
Ninth-grader Kevin Smith, 14, of Seat Pleasant said he heard about the class during his school orientation in August and jumped at the opportunity.
“It just caught my eye,” Kevin said. “It’s a lot of fun and provides a different way to express yourself through music.”