These Ann Arbor students built a recording studio so they could tell their stories

ANN ARBOR, MI – It became evident that students at Ann Arbor’s Pathways to Success high school had a desire to have their voices heard that wasn’t being addressed when Quinn Strassel began to spend time with them.

Teaching these students over Zoom, while also serving as director Community High School’s theater program, Strassel said Pathway students didn’t believe they had the same access to opportunities other high school students had, and they wanted a space to be able to express their creativity .

Strassel left Community High School after running its theater program for 11 years to start a performing arts program at Pathways to Success, with the intent of helping students who have experienced poverty and trauma find their voices through creative endeavors.

“What became clear to me is that so many kids at Pathways have extraordinary talent and potential,” Strassel said. “These kids had so much potential that all it would take is somebody putting a little effort into making it happen.”

This year, Strassel started the Actors Studio at Pathways, where students have spent the school year building a recording studio. ASAP students recently released their debut video production, “Voices from the Path,” a 27-minute, five-act documentary outlining students’ dreams beyond high school, the process of building the recording studio and an act featuring the “glue” of the school, food service worker “Miss Anita.”

Students fundraised to help build the studio before constructing it this fall, operating power tools and putting up a green screen for video production used to create “Voices from the Path,” which was produced by Strassel.

Featuring student interviews and documentary footage from this school year, “Voices from the Path” gives viewers a glimpse of the joys, dreams, struggles and successes of the students at Pathways, Strassel said.

Pathways is a high school for students needing or preferring a smaller, more intimate academic environment that perhaps may be unavailable at larger, comprehensive high schools. The school offers online coursework, traditional direct instruction models, project-based learning, community internships and dual enrollment opportunities where students can earn college credit.

“Every single day, I realize how much these kids have to say and it’s just an honor to be a part of helping them share their voice with our community,” Strassel said. “Our kids have a perspective that the world needs to hear and they share it through music, through video, through poetry and I just feel so fortunate to even be able to spend my days with these kids.”

Each of the five acts in “Voices from the Path” outline the hopes and dreams of Pathways students during interviews where students talk about their definition of success in act one, including getting their diploma, going to college, setting goals and achieving them and simply being happy.

Pathways to Success student James Trussel uses a miter saw to cut some wood for the recording studio frame. Students helped build a recording studio for Pathways’ Actors Studio at Pathways (ASAP), a brand new performing arts program.Photo provided | Quinn Strassel

Act two documents the construction of the recording studio, with students operating miter saws, putting up drywall and insulation and decorating the studio with spray paint.

Constructing the studio, creating the documentary and being able to use it to produce his own rap EP “Blessed Child,” gave Pathways student James Trussell, 18, on purpose to attend school, he said. In addition to helping him learn how to operate tools,

“I don’t really like school, but this school made me actually like school, because it’s doing something that I love,” Trussel said.

The third act of the documentary tells the story of cafeteria worker Anita Hargrove, or simply “Miss Anita,” outlining her role as the school’s most valuable” employee, according to Pathways students. Hargrove’s love for each student is apparent, making sure all of them are fed, even if they show up late, and passing out water bottles in the cafeteria.

The students profiled Hargrove’s life at and away from Pathways, a place that is near and dear to her heart.

“I guess when you really like something or care for it, it just all falls into place,” Hargrove said in the documentary. “It ended up being more than just food service. If you need somebody to talk to, need somebody to cry to, the kids will come to me.”

In act four, students detail their passions and ambitions, which range from producing horror films to singing and recording music.

Pathways student Selena Warren-Riggs is featured documenting her interview with Detroit music producer Prod. by Bert, providing a glimpse into the opportunities students have had to interview industry veterans about the music business.

“Being in the studio, it kind of gives you a feel for what it’s like to make music and that feel for really being in the studio and just being able to go in there and express yourself however you want to,” Warren-Riggs said .

The fifth and final act of the documentary focuses on “love and beauty,” detailing the work of Pathways student Asiya Hurt, who talks about body shaming and self love while also describing her work in the cosmetology program.

Strassel believes constructing the study has given students a sense of pride in where they come to learn, while also helping them tell their stories in new and creative ways.

“What I liked about the idea of ​​starting with the studio is the kids could get hands-on experience and they could take ownership over it right away,” he said. “I think that has definitely been the case that the kids have felt a sense of ownership over the space.”

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