In a room packed with students at Webster Junior High School, James G. Berk, director of Hamilton High School's newly formed Academy of Music, knew the right words to capture the imagination of his audience.
"The Los Angeles Unified School District has decided to put together a 'Fame' school on the West Coast," he told the students, "and you have a chance to be a part of it."
The reference to the popular movie and television series about students struggling to make it in show business while attending a performing-arts school easily catches the attention of the young audience. Berk makes the analogy at every opportunity while recruiting for the new academy.
The district has received 2,500 requests from students for applications to the academy, which opens in September with space for 630 students, he said. The deadline to apply for music academy or any of the district's other magnet programs is Friday.
The number of inquiries prompted school board member Alan Gershman to proclaim the newly formed magnet a success.
"I think it is fair to say that the Hamilton Academy of Music has struck a chord," he said.
Hamilton High School was selected for the program because it has a low enrollment and efforts to maintain its ethnic balance have not been successful. Eighty-one percent of Hamilton's students are members of minorities.
Shop Rooms Become Music Labs
The board allocated $140,000 for the program to convert several industrial-shop rooms to music labs and to renovate the school's auditorium. The district also plans to hire eight teachers for the academy.
The academy will offer a variety of courses, including music history, theory and harmony. Students will receive specialized instruction in voice, instrument and musical theater. They will perform classics, jazz, pop and rock music.
Because of the concentration on music courses, academy students will take an extra class each day to complete graduation requirements. Students will attend school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"The extra class each day will mean that, by the time each student graduates, he will have 80 additional credits," Berk said.
Students in the music program will take their other required classes in the regular high school program, which has 1,200 students. Hamilton also offers a humanities magnet for 250 students, specializing in literature, art, music, history and language.
"It is no good if you are prepared musically and not academically," Berk told a group of students at Webster.
That idea appealed to Erika Hunt, a 15-year-old ninth-grader who plays the drums and flute and likes to sing.
"It sounds like a great school," she said. "I hope I am accepted because I really want to go to a school that specializes in music. I want to sing like Whitney Houston."
But, even with an excellent voice, the chances of getting into the academy are slim.
Random Selection of Applicants
New York City's well-known High School of Performing Arts, which inspired the movie "Fame," holds auditions. But in Los Angeles, students will be randomly selected for the academy by a computer in the district's integration office.
Last year, more than 25,000 students applied for admission to the district's 86 magnet schools. Seven thousand were accepted.
"The applications will all come in, they are computerized and the students will be selected based upon the space available and ethnicity," said Theodore Alexander Jr., assistant superintendent of student integration options. "The talent element will also be considered, but magnets were developed in Los Angeles for the purpose of integration."
Berk said the school will not hold auditions, but he plans to interview applicants before the computer makes its selections. During the interview, he said, students will be asked to demonstrate their skills.
"We are not looking to try to handpick the nine best musicians, though some of the best will apply," school board member Jackie Goldberg said. "Most of those who apply will go because they just love music."