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How I Found A Home In The Arts: A Thank You

I at 11 was lost like everyone else. I was at a STEM-focused middle school. Despite this and the numerous opportunities and the encouragement to pursue STEM-related activities, I found myself uninterested. By the mid-point of 6th grade, I was begging my mom to transfer me to another school. Sure, science was cool when I was in elementary school. Regardless of my childhood dreams of becoming an Astronaut, I quickly realized that my brain was not made for science and math the way many of my classmates were. I was a fish out of water. So, how did I find myself?

Astronaut walking across moon
Tumisu / Pixabay

A field trip, to the production of “Fiddler on The Roof” put on the high school next door that would become my alma mater. Howard W. Blake High school of the Performing Arts. We spent the afternoon watching these high school students perform with everything they had. While some of my classmates fell asleep, I was entranced. I had never felt a passion so powerful for anything related to school. The fact that these kids were in school and getting a grade for something that they clearly cared about changed something in me. It gave me a yearning to find a way to do like these other students. To get a grade for something I loved — not just math, or English.

top-down photo of filled theatre seats
Alev Takil/Unsplash

That was the goal, but there was no real plan.

Acting and voice lessons are expensive, my school had no choir, and I was a raging mess of hormones and anxiety. I didn’t know how to ask for help achieving my goal, I don’t think I would’ve listened to it either. I have always been very stubborn and independent. So when it came time to pick our electives for the next half of the year I chose the closest thing. Band. Which I thought included string instruments. It did, not but nonetheless, I found myself quite content being placed in the flute section.

To be honest, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in any of my electives. I was pulled out of my elective class to get math tutoring, and for this reason, I only got to attend band class on Fridays. Those Fridays were a slice of heaven for me. It was the motivation to get through the week. I wish I could send you the feeling of joy I felt when I placed my flute to my lips and played jingle bells or hot cross buns. They were beginner pieces, but I had finally found something that I enjoyed. I later discovered that I did not need to be in math tutoring as I had a C+ as opposed to the D or F that required students to attend it. My math teacher was not my biggest fan, and I can’t blame him. I thought his homework was dumb and I didn’t speak up in class. After this grand discovery, I began to attend my band class every day, and band class became the only reason I willingly attended school on most days. 

I know you’re assuming that I attended the aforementioned high school for band. However, I did not, I attended the Creative Writing program. The journey of how I got there is slightly complicated, but the story as to how I got to Iowa and theatre is even more so. Let’s not skip ahead though.

In seventh grade, I was placed in something called AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination. It was a class that was made for students who may be forgotten about to teach them organizational and study skills; as well as to introduce them to new opportunities that they may not be receiving in their traditional classes. It is in that class that I found the encouragement from my teacher Mrs.Willis-Barrett to really pursue what I wanted. Not just the opportunities in the school or the STEM careers that were pushed onto us. 

Mrs.Willis-Barrett was always kind, encouraging, and pushed us in just the right direction. If Mrs.Willis-Barrett hadn’t joined the staff of my middle school I can honestly say I probably would not have gone to Blake High School at all. Mrs.Willis-Barrett was the one who encouraged me to write every day and to keep revising old poems. She brought in students ambassadors from Blake to tell us about the different programs and what the school was like. She would read poems and listen to the problems we had. She was the additional nurturing force I needed after my switch to orchestra ended badly.

While I am not sure if she remembers, Mrs.Willis-Barrett helped me find a program that had something I was truly interested in. Creative Writing. She checked in with me as I went through the numerous programs that helped determine what was the best for me, what I was the most passionate about. She helped me work on the poems I wrote, and when the school hard drives were wiped the day of my audition she let me sit in her room during my lunch period to re-type everything that I had lost in time to make it for the audition. When I passed she congratulated me and it felt like the world was right. Because of the dedication she had for her students, I managed to join a community and school where I could finally pursue the passion I had been yearning for. I never properly thanked her, so I guess that’s why I’m writing this. To give Mrs.Willis-Barrett a real thank you.

Mrs.Willis-Barrett if you’re reading this — thank you for changing my life. I can’t imagine a world without the things and people I learned from Blake and you are the reason I got there. Thank you for helping me find a home in the arts.



Jailene Bernal is a 21 year old Florida born transplant into Iowa. She studies theatre with the hope to teach high school in the future. She loves her Australian Shepard Mila, Pizza, Her boyfriend, and the feeling on sunshine on her skin.
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