Valley School of the Arts gets creative to empower students to learn during pandemic


If you’ve driven 3rd Street and McDowell through downtown Phoenix in the past 25 years, you’ve probably seen the Arizona School for the Arts.

Venture inside and you’ll hear hundreds of students in Grades 5-12 working hard, honing their skills in music, dance and theater.

“We have graduates in Hollywood,” said Leah Fregulia, school principal and CEO.

However, Fregulia cautions not to be fooled by the name of the school.

Only around 15% of students pursue a career in the performing arts, while many more switch to the stage for a career in STEM or the humanities.

Senior Aaliyah Thompson Mazzeo is one of these students.

“I can use my studies in movement and dance to study prosthetics,” she says.

Ian Nussdorfer is a junior studying jazz.

“The interaction between people and how it can build up so much energy,” he said. “I also have an interest in sound engineering, I also find that really cool.”

Like students from across Aaliyah country, Ian and the more than 800 students on the ASA campus have spent most of this year learning from a distance. The school just resumed full-time in-person learning on April 12.

“I was dancing in my dining room, which is around 8×8, so not a lot of space,” said Thompson Mazzeo.

“We tried to replicate our classes as much as possible in the remote environment, but we made some changes,” said Fregulia. “We’ve really learned to focus on what’s essential to our program, both academically and the performing arts.

Group classes now train outdoors.

The dance and choir occupy one of the parking lots, sometimes extending to a newly rented space in the nearby church.

Some students have chosen to stay away, so that teachers give instructions online and in person at the same time.

It wasn’t easy, but there were some silver liners.

“It definitely taught us to be more sustainable in the way we produce our art and show it to the world,” said Thompson Mazzeo.

School leaders tell ABC15 that they don’t yet know what next year will look like, but their mission will remain the same.

The mission would be to help the students take all the right notes in the path they choose.

“Even when kids come in with stars in their eyes, thinking they’re going to be on stage, we want to make sure they know there is a range of opportunities available,” said Fregulia.


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