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Voci Soli Ensemble Brings Beautiful Music to Inland Empire

Voci Soli performs during the Black History Month Concert at San Bernardino Valley College on February 24, 2017. Photo: LaVar Godoy.

SAN BERNARDINO, California?—Voci Soli is more than a performance group: it’s a family.

The audition-only choral ensemble began as a club five years ago, and is now a class at San Bernardino Valley College. “Voci Soli” is Italian for “solo voice,” and students are taught by Madeleine “Matie” Scully?—?the college’s performing arts director— not only how to sing in a choir, but also how to perform on their own.

She is driven to make sure we are well-educated and confident,” Rebecca Ward, Scully’s executive student assistant, said.

Throughout the year, Voci Soli holds several performances, including the annual Black History Month concert, featuring gospels. They cover a wide spectrum of sacred and secular pieces, and advanced students have been able to perform pieces they’ve written themselves. There are also small ensembles that branch off from Voci Soli, like “The Basement,” an audition-only a cappella group comprised of four bass singers.

Voci Soli has “people who have been singing for 10, 20 years, people right out of high school, and people like me, who were scared to sing,” Ward said. “It’s a good mix. We try to take care of one another, and stay in touch. After performances, we like to go eat and hang out together, or have pool parties. It’s a big family.”

When Ward first arrived at SBVC after attending Cal Baptist, Voci Soli didn’t yet exist. Ward is a dancer and performer, but had never been a singer. She met Scully and “loved choir and being able to sing,” something that was “completely out of my element.”

When she returned to SBVC to earn her business degree, she was thrilled to make it into Voci Soli. Working with Scully, Ward says she has been taught that the “beauty of your voice will come from learning how to use your voice.”

This year, there are 29 students and three faculty members in Voci Soli. They spend six hours in the classroom, where peer-teaching is emphasized, and even more time practicing on their own.

It’s a very dedicated group,” Ward said. “We take it very seriously what we do, just like you would train for a sport.”

Singers of all backgrounds are welcome, and Scully focuses on “really making sure your voice is healthy and using correct techniques,” Ward said. “Everyone comes to class knowing their notes and the rhythm, and Matie cleans up the rest, making it the most beautiful sound in the world.”

The members of Voci Soli also believe in giving back. They have invited local high school singers to perform Handel’s Messiah on campus with the group during the holidays and hosted the Magic Music Room for elementary school students?—?Voci Soli performs kids’ favorites, sharing a positive message in a fun environment.

I strongly feel children need art and music to be really well-rounded and to help with their education,” Ward, who owns a dance studio, said. “Most music programs have been cut or were nonexistent, and it feels really good to share this with the community.”

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JOB OPENINGS: SECURITY GUARD POSITIONS

NEW HOPE CHURCH is accepting applications to fill two Security Guard positions at the Family Life Center and the New Hope Church. Applications are available at the New Hope Church Office. For additional information, please contact the Church Office at (909) 887-2526.

The individual must possess the following knowledge, skills and abilities and be able to explain and demonstrate that he or she can perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation, using some other combination of skills and abilities.

• Ability to read, listen and communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing.

• Must have strong security knowledge

• Ability to work independently and complete duties and projects with little direct supervision.

• Ability to accurately work under pressure in meeting deadlines.

• At least some security experience.

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Options for Youth to close 7 school centers on Saturday

Options for Youth Public Charter Schools (OFY) will close seven school centers authorized by the Victor Valley Union High School District on Saturday, leaving school officials “heartbroken,” according to a statement provided to the Daily Press on Friday afternoon.

Nonclassroom-based charters like OFY came under fire last year when the state Supreme Court let stand an appellate court ruling that limits where they can legally operate sites.

OFY’s seven to-be-shuttered sites are located outside of the boundaries of its authorizing district, VVUHSD, which sent the school a letter earlier this year asking them to comply with the law.

After the recent Anderson Unified School District vs. Shasta Secondary Home School ruling which affects nonclassroom-based charter schools ... (OFY) will close the seven centers authorized by (VVUHSD) but operated outside (its) boundaries, on July 1st, 2017,” OFY spokesperson Kimberly Brown said in an email to the Daily Press. “The seven sites are located in Chino, Fontana, Hesperia, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, and Victorville. OFY is in the process of transferring dozens of staff members and several students to the three remaining Victorville school sites for the 2017-2018 school year.”

We are heartbroken to lose students and staff as a result of the Shasta ruling,” OFY Founder John Hall said.

After California became the second state in the country to pass a charter school law in 1992, OFY became the first sanctioned charter school in the state under VVUHSD, according to the school’s website. OFY’s program, founded in 1987, targets “at-risk and underserved students.”

Last year, the school narrowly avoided having its charter revoked by VVUHSD, after the district’s resolution to deny ended in a decision to “auto-renew” the agreement. In that resolution last May, the district criticized OFY for having a graduation rate one-third that of the state target and a dropout rate more than double the state average. However, those figures don’t include students who have transferred out of OFY to continue their education elsewhere or those who continue at OFY but do not graduate within the expected four-year timeframe.

In a statement sent to the Daily Press on June 9, OFY graduate Courtney Baldwin, who said she had heard the school sites may close, asserted that without OFY, “there is going to be an increase in high school dropouts.”

Baldwin noted that many students come to OFY for reasons like becoming pregnant, struggling with their health, or like her, falling behind on credits in high school.

If it wasn’t for Options I wouldn’t have been able to graduate and honestly, I don’t know if I’d still be alive,” Baldwin said, noting that after being bullied in public school, she developed depression and anorexia. “The teachers and staff (at OFY) were so welcoming and helped me to believe in myself like I never had before ... Options For Youth saved my life and I know they have saved thousands more.”

Hall noted that many of the school’s students “struggled to find success in traditional learning environments” before attending OFY.

To them we were a beacon of hope and an essential support system. To us, they were the reason we became educators,” Hall said. “For 30 years OFY has believed in students even when they didn’t believe in themselves. It is our hope that these centers will one day be able to serve students again.”

The Anderson vs. Shasta ruling affects approximately 250 charter schools across the state, according to the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), with limited options for those out of compliance.

Closing centers as OFY results in the displacement of students and staff alike, but school officials did not respond as to how many when asked by the Daily Press on Friday.

Avenues of recourse for affected charters include asking the centers’ resident school districts to grant separate charters, which OFY was denied by numerous districts, according to school officials. A remaining option is to appeal to the State Board of Education or a county board, as Excelsior Charter Schools — another school authorized by VVUHSD — successfully did last month.

Lastly, while not a final resolution, charters can seek a waiver from their authorizing district to be considered by the state board, which would allow them a grace period to phase out operations.

During its meeting on May 11, the state board accepted requests for waivers by 21 local educational agencies, including Helendale and Oro Grande elementary school districts, which also both authorize nonclassroom-based charters.

Although Options for Youth officials first told the Daily Press they had requested and were refused a waiver by VVUHSD, they later stated that upon investigation, they discovered “an employee who is no longer with the company” withdrew OFY’s waiver request from the district’s agenda.

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