"I actually had a lot of trouble metaphors with before," said Garachtchenko, a junior at Freestyle Academy — the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District's alternative school for communication arts and technology. But after completing a recent assignment, creating a photographic diptych to represent a metaphor-rich poem she had written, the 16-year-old said she has a much better grasp of the literary device which had previously eluded her.
"The diptych project helped me understand how two things that are completely different can be linked in so many ways," she said. For her, the visual nature of the assignment, along with the critiques and discussion she had with her classmates, helped her wrap her head around the concept. "It really opened up my mind. That helped me a lot with metaphors."
Gaining a better understanding of literature and writing through art is not unique to Garachtchenko. In fact, it is one of the central ideas behind Freestyle Academy, which augments lessons on essay writing, poetry, literature and non-fiction with courses that teach students how to build websites, shoot and edit film and photography, and create effective and engaging design.
On Wednesday, the junior class at Freestyle put on a public exhibition at the school's small campus, located in between the district offices and Mountain View High School.
The juniors displayed works that examine who they are as individuals — which they have created as part of a lesson plan that had them writing personal essays and poetry, and analyzing "Monkey Bridge," a novel about the differing identities of a Vietnamese mother and daughter who immigrate to America after the fall of Saigon.
Garachtchenko and classmate Hunter Coffman explained that they planned to display illustrations and a photographic diptych — both meant to explore how they see themselves and how the world sees them. Juniors studying film will display short videos examining their own identities. The exhibition also featured a musical component and student-built websites.
Both Garachtchenko and Coffman said they have been enjoying their time at Freestyle.
"I love it," Garachtchenko said, explaining that she applied for the program after taking a computer science class last year. "I learned that I could combine design and coding and I just jumped at the opportunity."
While it is true that the Freestyle curriculum centers around the arts, there is also a heavy technological component to all of the school's courses. Students studying film learn to edit video on computers; all students must take design classes and learn to use Adobe's Creative Suite of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and DreamWeaver, along with others.
Coffman, who along with Garachtchenko is taking the web design route through Freestyle, said he was drawn to the academy for a number of reasons. His sister also went through the program and he witnessed firsthand how much she enjoyed her time there. And, Coffman said he hopes to have a career where he gets to express himself artistically, and Freestyle seemed to strike a balance between practical work skills and art.
"Web design is an actual job," Coffman said.
The way he sees it, learning trigonometry — while important in the field of architecture — isn't a skill that will in and of itself help get someone a job at an architecture firm. The skills he is learning at Freestyle, on the other hand, are things that he could put on a resume and might help him land an entry-level position.
Leslie Parkinson, design instructor at Freestyle, said the school has a strong track record of its graduates going on to land careers in creative fields, like graphic design, photography, web design and film production. Very few, Parkinson estimated, will go on to become fine artists, as that is a "rough road."
For those that might want to take a crack at that "rough road" the event, and other shows the school will hold over the course of the year, should give students a taste for what it takes to put on a gallery exhibition. But for the rest of the students, Parkinson said, the show should serve as a confidence booster, a chance to have their work critiqued, and to simply show off what Freestyle is all about.
More information about Freestyle can be found at the school's website, www.freestyle.mvla.net.