Delta Academy recently received a $20,000 grant from the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation, a major Bay Area arts philanthropic organization. Lead teacher Rob Seitelman plans to use the money to enhance the academy’s after-school program, in which students plan, rehearse and perform plays. Delta Academy recently concluded a run of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and is already preparing its next show for the end of March.
“We’re thrilled and absolutely honored that Lesher would support us and the work that we’re doing in East County,” Seitelman said. “It’s truly remarkable that we’re able to provide this for our students and that Lesher is able to support us in that work.”
Housed at Deer Valley High School, Delta Academy takes students through a high school curriculum focused on the arts, but draws from several foundations to ensure a complete education.
The school is one of Antioch Unified School District’s linked learning academies, such as the Deer Valley Law Academy and Dozier-Libbey Medical High School, which incorporate career preparation into the four-year curriculum. Through these academies, students can receive a well-rounded education while preparing for their chosen careers.
For instance, students performing Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” would look at the play’s language and plot from the perspective of English literature, the family relationships from a psychological perspective, and the poison Romeo drinks from a biological perspective.
The approach is working. Delta Academy, which enrolls roughly 200 students, will graduate its first class this spring. According to Seitelman, roughly 80 percent of the academy’s seniors have been accepted into universities and performing arts academies such as Los Angeles’ American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
Though students said the switch from a traditional middle-school to an arts-focused curriculum was difficult at first, they have flourished and enjoyed the change.
“I was actually very excited for the change,” senior Marina Ketchum said. “Instead of going to a huge high school, I was going to something like Delta Academy, which focuses on art. It was a bit shaky in the beginning because it was a drastic change … but eventually, you just find the rhythm and you really take a lot out of it.”
School district board President Diane Gibson-Gray, who is also the executive director of the Arts & Cultural Foundation of Antioch, has been impressed by the way Delta Academy has succeeded.
The Lesher Foundation has supported other programs in Antioch, such as the free summer concert series and El Campanil Theatre. “They’ve incorporated and adapted very well and they’re still continuing to grow,” Gibson-Gray said. “Unfortunately, when there’s cash shortages, the arts go first. This is a creative way to still continue to grow the program.”
One of the major tenets of Delta Academy’s after-school program is outreach to local middle and elementary schools. Students regularly perform plays not only at Deer Valley’s theater, but on stages at grade schools all over Antioch. Delta Academy students talk with their younger classmates and help them gain an appreciation for the performing arts. Largely because of this, Delta Academy is anticipating an incoming freshman class next year of between 70 and 100 students.
Seitelman said he’d ideally like to see more participation between Delta Academy and local grade schools, where high school students teach the younger kids who might not be getting much interaction with art.
Seitelman left the professional drama world in New York to become a teacher. When Delta Academy opened up, he leaped at the chance to make a difference. “I had a real desire to see arts flourish in a place where there were things that were definitely poised against it,” Seitelman said.
“My hope is that we can help. We can take it back into the elementary and middle school through after-school programs for the elementary and middle school kids taught by our students and faculty. The grant will help us do that.”