On the Fringes of the Mojave Desert

Our GREAT story – Synopsis

On the fringes of the Mojave Desert, in the town of Apple Valley, educators, administrators, board members and counselors are working hard to bring back high-quality arts education wedded with career readiness. This story is about a group of dedicated individuals who are working on creating a 21st century CTE (Career Technical Education) Performing Arts Pathway. The Granite Recording & Entertainment Arts Training (GREAT) Academy. Arts education is essential because the arts develop critical thinking skills, innovation, and the value of humanity.

Time frame

This group of educators has been working for three years to develop and explore how to incorporate CTE with the performing arts. This process has led to the development of new curriculum, partnerships, and a performing arts academy. Classes will formally start in the 2018-2019 school year.


Granite Hills High School (GHHS) is located in the Town of Apple Valley (a population of 73,077) within San Bernardino County. GHHS has developed a CTE performing arts pathway, offering core arts training along with applied technical training. With 69.7% of student populace receiving free and reduced lunch, this fringe rural Title I school has many challenges. It serves a diverse populace, with a score of 47 on the Ethnic Diversity Index, according to EdData. 7.6% of GHHS students are designated as English Language Learners.

During the 2016-2017 school year, GHHS underwent a facelift. New paint, redesigned water saving, and geographic specific landscaping provided a much needed change to the school culture. Everyone on campus felt it. Students felt more at home than ever before. With this new outlook and new academy, the perception of GHHS, like the desert heat, is on the rise.

Key Characters

Bottom row: (left to right) Laura Stewart, Allison Sigard, Camile Gonzales

Top row:  Shane Churchill, Javier Alcantara-Rojas

In 2015, Javier Alcantara-Rojas was hired at GHHS and tasked by Principal Charles McCall to create a CTE oriented pathway. Mr. Javier (as he is called by his students) with Assistant Principal Laura Stewart, brought together a group of teachers that would become the core of the GREAT Academy. Veteran choir teacher Shane Churchill, Spanish/Dance teacher Camille Gonzales, and new drama teacher Allison Siggard rounded out the crew. They worked hard, over two years, attending workshops (Educating for Careers and AME Leadership Institute) to develop the vision and create the documentation for the GREAT Academy. They all contributed in creating an immersive, inclusive and engaging creative space for GHHS students. With help and support from the AVUSD board and district, they have managed to create a tripartite middle-high-postsecondary education pathway that will benefit Apple Valley students, and the surrounding community, for years to come.

Front row: (left to right) Sean Benson, Laura Steward, Camille Gonzales

Back row: Emily Cornwell, Jennifer Hunt, Shane Churchill

Principal Charles McCall speaking to AVUSD board about the GREAT Academy


Apple Valley is Hollywood legends’ Dale Evans and Roy Rogers’ stomping grounds. “The Happy Trails Highway” lies south of GHHS, and the school’s Performing Arts’ Center (PAC) is named the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Performing Arts Center. Dale Evans had donated to the development of a performing arts program when the school had opened in 1999. The PAC has been a safe haven for many youth throughout the years, offering a place for students to practice and perform after school. The new performing arts program will give students an opportunity to hone their talents and skills as they learn about global diversity through mediums of expression and seek future economic opportunities in the entertainment industry. Visionary Principal Charles McCall believes the arts bring an oasis of creativity helping students develop innovative thinking, problem solving, team-oriented collaborations, and technical skills – all of which are beneficial for preparing students for college and careers within the global economy.

The GREAT teachers have professional experience in the performing arts industry and have created a blueprint for a high-quality CTE program. Using best practices by demonstration/model sites, set up by the state, and tailoring it to the community and its challenges, they have brought together board members, businesses, parents, students and postsecondary institutions to create a new CTE Performing Arts Pathway. Incorporating high-quality standards-based curriculum and cross-curricular arts integration, married with technology (digital media creation), the GREAT Academy represents the best of what is possible in arts education. Fully integrating Digital Media with Music (vocal/instrumental), Dance, Drama and an entrepreneurial spirit gives students the opportunity to develop their creative potential in numerous ways – preparing them for college and careers. From creating new music, to filming short films and advertisements or running a production company, GHHS and AVUSD are “proudly preparing our students for their future.”

The GREAT instructors went back to school to receive their CTE credentials and learn new ways to link entrepreneurship, technology, and performing arts standards to provide a college and career readiness curriculum that is rich with work-related experiences, skills, and a focus on developing performing arts proficiency. The curriculum is being entirely overhauled to include digital media and entrepreneurship. With full support from the district, Title I, LCAP, CTE, and Perkins’ funds have allowed for hundreds of thousands of dollars to be poured into the arts. New instruments, new computers, new A/V recording gear and the latest industry standard software will equip our students for jobs in the Entertainment Industry. Following CTE guidelines by the state, we have established an explorer middle school; CTE Pathway High school; and postsecondary college partnerships, where none existed before. Attending the AME (Arts Media and Entertainment) Leadership Institute training ensures that our teachers, administrators, and counselors have guidance and accountability from the state. GHHS is trending in a positive direction.


Recently GHHS received a glowing report by WASC and is fully accredited. This document attests that GHHS is preparing students for college and careers. At least 25% of the freshmen class of 2018-2019 are signed up for the GREAT academy. These changes have led to an improved perception among the community. With new programs, technology, and a new coat of paint, GHHS is gaining ground as a place to be for creative students. Our partnerships with local production companies, business and postsecondary institutions are solidifying our relationships within the community.

Assistant Principal Laura Stewart speaking with local business leader and postsecondary educators at our industry meeting

Why It Matters

As we move into the 21st century, we are excited by the many new challenges. What does it mean to be a human in an increasingly technological society? How is technology shaping our perceptions and relationships? What careers are worth pursuing in an increasingly volatile jobs market? GREAT students will be uniquely poised to answer such questions. They will drive the answers through their creativity. The minds we train today will create the future. It is up to us to equip our students with the capacity to answer these questions ethically and more. The wedding of best practice arts education and technology in digital media prepares GHHS students for this exciting future.

Regional Lead: Armalyn De La O

District Name: Apple Valley Unified School District

School Name: Granite Hills High School

County: San Bernardino

Contact Name: Charles McCall, Principal

Contact Email: chuck_mccall@avusd.org

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