The art of learning

Freestyle Academy exhibit shows off work junior class students

For Anastasia Garachtchenko, metaphors used to be her Achilles heel.

"I actually had a lot of trouble with metaphors 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.

This week, the junior class at Freestyle will put on a public exhibition at the school's small campus, located in between the district offices and Mountain View High School. The event is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The juniors will be displaying 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 will 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 will also feature 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. First, his sister also went through the program and he witnessed firsthand how much she enjoyed her time there. Second, 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.

Parkinson encouraged any parents and students interested in attending Freestyle to come to the event. More information on how to enroll in Freestyle can be found at the school's website,


Like this comment
Posted by freestyle student
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Oct 31, 2013 at 9:35 am

Wish I could have attended. Such good times. Hopefully I can come to the next one.
~Freestyle Class of 2010

Like this comment
Posted by Freestyle Alum
a resident of North Whisman
on Oct 31, 2013 at 6:36 pm

I graduated a few years ago and I can honestly say that my time at Freestyle was the absolute best two years of high school. I learned so much and use most of my skills daily (I now design video games). The teachers are all fantastic... Ms. P rocks! Sometimes I wish I could go back and do it all over again.

Like this comment
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Oct 31, 2013 at 6:44 pm

As a parent of a Freestyle student who graduates this June, I am so appreciative of all the hard work and dedication these teachers show their students. The teachers prepare these kids not only for college, but for a professional career in their chosen field. I am so grateful my daughter has been a part of this amazing school. Thank you to the district for backing this superb learning environment, and thank you to all the hard-working teachers. Looking forward to the big show at the Computer History Museum in February!

Like this comment
Posted by not a Freestyle parent
a resident of Slater
on Nov 3, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Neither of my two kids picked this program - only one was really into this type of stuff. But friend's children have - and it really does rock! The high school district took the money it gets from Google - and it really did something innovative, 21st century technology based, AND creative/artistic/academically integrated. Truly - the standard by which others can be judged!

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