Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Creating art at LCHS

Last week was challenging for a guy like me. It was the culmination of Fine Arts Week at La Cañada High. My wife, Kaitzer, detailed an operational plan that rivaled Napoleon’s when he invaded Russia. I was given a cumbersome list of picks-ups and drop-offs. Not only would I have to remember assorted times, I would have to remember to remember those times. Between cheer, choral, orchestra, “songie” and “flagie” practice I was going back and forth like a New York cabbie in Manhattan.

The teachers orchestrated a plethora of performances showcasing the talents of the students. Throughout I learned that experiencing artistic expression gives hope. One sees creation in its purest form and is reminded that our greatest gift to ourselves is beauty. Art makes us better.

The talents of the visual artists under the guidance of Mike Kauffman mesmerized me and the artifacts of their creative imaginations were consuming. The orchestra under the direction of Jason Stone, Kyle Smith and Connie Speltz played both classical and contemporary pieces highlighting the amazing talents of the students. “Ashokan Farwell” created images of soldiers in the Civil War and of their subsequent demise. Art is not art until it stirs your soul.

I am humbled by the enthusiasm of Jeff Brookey. His ability to actualize the efforts of his students is a gift. To get the performances that he demands is a result of the love and passion he wraps around his choir. How can anyone not believe in God when you hear those kids sing?

Fine Arts week culminated in an open house and I was again faced with an insurmountable task. Kaitzer gave me specific instructions to meet the girls’ teachers, take notes in the Advanced Placement workshop, watch the French presentation in the cafeteria, and see daughter Simone’s exhibition on The Arab Spring in the library. I accepted this Herculean task with the best of intentions, but, as Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”

In the Marines I was an expert in land navigation, but last week at LCHS when I walked up to the second floor looking for room 206 and saw room 721, I was befuddled. However, I did make it to the AP presentation and saw two icons that I’ve heard much about during my days at Glendale College: Jim Cardinal and Justin Valassidis, known by all as “Mr. V.”

I managed to see the remarkable presentation of “Les Miserables” by the French students. It was quite stirring to see the kids singing in French, waving the French flag, and running off the stage to defend freedom. I hoped they never experience the reality that freedom has a price.

My favorite part of the evening was the world-history presentations by the ninth graders in the library. I’m a sucker for kids; consequently I listened to every spiel from Aljazeera to Islamic Women. I loved the enthusiasm of Raine Gordon and Daphne Smith relative to “The one child policy of China.” Jesse Landersman, Jenna Dorse and Sofia Kim gave me an analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict and Aslam Ahmad, Paul Broberg and Robb Lovelance were in stiches as they briefed me on China’s environmental issues. These kids were iridescent and, when you see that, nothing else matters.

I meandered through the hallways and classrooms but only found two of my girls’ teachers. I wish I could have met each of you and personally thanked you for all that you do. I did my best.

There’s a life force called vitality. It exists independent of us. When you harness it, anything is possible. That’s how art is created and that’s exactly what happened at La Cañada High School during the month of March.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World