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Nate Jarrell’s Carmel Valley classroom

The kids are all right at Canyon Crest Academy

Nate Jarrell
Nate Jarrell

At first glance, you might not peg guitarist Nate Jarrell as a high school teacher — maybe it’s the modified mohawk. The heavily tattooed Jarrell still looks every bit the punk rocker he was nearly 20 years ago (and occasionally still is) when he toured with hardcore bands like Born Blind. But for the last 17 years, Jarrell has been a fixture at Canyon Crest Academy, a performing arts mecca in Carmel Valley. “Anyone from the district [San Dieguito Unified] can go there, although there is sometimes a lottery if it’s too full,” he says. “It was built specifically as an arts and science school. So, we have a huge campus with music, theater, dance, cinema, humanities, and a full science department.”

Jarrell is one of three full-time music instructors. “Amy Villanova leads the wind ensemble, orchestra, and everything on the classical end of the spectrum. Anne Whatoff directs all of our vocal ensembles, and I teach Recording Arts, Digital Composition, a Jazz Band class, a Rock Band class, and an afterschool instrumental conservatory.” (Everyone chips in on that last one, the conservatory, which runs until about 5 pm.)

“For the Recording Arts class, we have a whole studio that we’ve built that is pretty substantial, especially for a high school. The Digital Composition class has the students writing their own music, mostly inside a computer environment. It’s an amazing place to be, really forward-thinking.”

By way of example, Jarrell notes that “We try extremely hard to afford the kids a lot autonomy, as scary as that might be. We want them to be as hands-on and real-world as possible. We have them run their own rehearsals, put together their own recording projects and concerts, and deal with the business side of things, so that when they leave here, they already know how to do it themselves.”

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Nate Jarrell
Nate Jarrell

At first glance, you might not peg guitarist Nate Jarrell as a high school teacher — maybe it’s the modified mohawk. The heavily tattooed Jarrell still looks every bit the punk rocker he was nearly 20 years ago (and occasionally still is) when he toured with hardcore bands like Born Blind. But for the last 17 years, Jarrell has been a fixture at Canyon Crest Academy, a performing arts mecca in Carmel Valley. “Anyone from the district [San Dieguito Unified] can go there, although there is sometimes a lottery if it’s too full,” he says. “It was built specifically as an arts and science school. So, we have a huge campus with music, theater, dance, cinema, humanities, and a full science department.”

Jarrell is one of three full-time music instructors. “Amy Villanova leads the wind ensemble, orchestra, and everything on the classical end of the spectrum. Anne Whatoff directs all of our vocal ensembles, and I teach Recording Arts, Digital Composition, a Jazz Band class, a Rock Band class, and an afterschool instrumental conservatory.” (Everyone chips in on that last one, the conservatory, which runs until about 5 pm.)

“For the Recording Arts class, we have a whole studio that we’ve built that is pretty substantial, especially for a high school. The Digital Composition class has the students writing their own music, mostly inside a computer environment. It’s an amazing place to be, really forward-thinking.”

By way of example, Jarrell notes that “We try extremely hard to afford the kids a lot autonomy, as scary as that might be. We want them to be as hands-on and real-world as possible. We have them run their own rehearsals, put together their own recording projects and concerts, and deal with the business side of things, so that when they leave here, they already know how to do it themselves.”

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