Brad Owings teaches 10th-grade English, remedial reading and physical education at Liberty Continuation High School, but his passion is the guitar.
He’s spread that passion to about 40 students at the school on West Walnut Street in Lodi. During two class periods each day, students are strumming on guitars and having the time of their lives.
“I see them finally becoming successful at something,” Owings said of his students. “They’ve come out of their shell. They have a lot more friends. They have the confidence to talk to a pretty girl.”
That’s because they’ve learned to play the guitar.
“I knew you last year, but you were quiet,” Liberty High student Miguel Ayala told classmate Dylan Lewis. “Then you started jamming.”
Another student, Cody Land, 17, began high school at Lodi High, wanting to play the drums. However, playing in the school band didn’t suit him. Someone at Lodi High told Land that Liberty has a music class he might enjoy.
“I came here (to Liberty) and didn’t really like it,” Land said.
But that changed in a hurry.
“It’s smaller, and the teachers are into you more,” Land said. “I prefer Liberty over Lodi. I wouldn’t go back.”
Ayala, 16, said he learned about the music class while being interviewed by Liberty Principal Tamara Somera.
“My mom thought I should take it,” Ayala said.
Students generally play acoustic guitars, but on Fridays, they are rewarded by being allowed to go electric.
“I want to become the next Brian Setzer from the Stray Cats, my favorite guitarist,” Land said.
Lewis, 17, was good enough to play guitar at the Liberty High graduation in May. It’s something Land and Ayala want to do next year.
Ayala has another talent, one he developed in sixth grade — songwriting. He added some poetry in middle school.
“I think I’ve written well over 100 songs and poems together,” Ayala said. “It’s given me a new passion. It’s given me something to love musically.”
Land and Ayala want to join bands after they hone their skills, while Lewis wants to work on his music on his own.
Liberty’s music program began as an afterschool club. Then Somera asked Owings, “Why don’t you teach a class of it?”
Owings, who has played guitar for only four years, was given one class period to teach music, but a second class was added because the student interest was greater than the availability, he said.
“I’ve been playing for four years, and these students have taken it for one year, and they’re better than I am,” Owings said. “The kids are also teaching each other.”
He also gets help from Dave Miller, a Woodbridge resident who teaches private guitar lessons. Miller volunteers in Owings’ classes twice a week to help the more advanced musicians. Other guitarists in the community have helped provide lessons as well.
Friday — when the students gets to play electric guitars — is the group’s favorite day.
“It gets real loud on Fridays,” Owings said. “I don’t interrupt the other classes too much.”
Not only are students honing their music skills and gaining self-confidence, but Owings also sees a benefit in other classrooms.
“The attendance rate for these kids — they are really showing up,” he said. “It’s a big improvement over what attendance used to be.”
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.