“You’ve got a media frenzy out here!” Principal Dr. Jason Ness jokingly remarked to junior Anthony Saldana as the two first met in the bustling hall of the English department. Though Ness’s eyes flicked between the camera and tripods, Saldana didn’t bat an eye. This junior is used to being in the spotlight.
While Saldana wondered about how the day would go as a whole, Ness’s main concern was whether or not having Adventure Ed on the schedule meant he would have to climb up some sort of height — if so, he wasn’t so sure he could make it through the day.
“Student For a Day” came to life after Ness realized that major administrative decisions should not be enacted without student input. Ness decided to put himself in the shoes of the students at our high school. After he came up with the idea to choose one student to shadow each month, he was committed to making this a reality.
Starting with a senior Eleni Balordous, and later following with freshman Odi Nano, it was decided the next student Ness would shadow should be a representative of the Fine Arts Department. Without a doubt, the name ‘Anthony Saldana’ came to mind.
“Anthony was the perfect candidate — not only is he already a dominant name in our theatre department, but he is involved in much more than that. Besides his core classes, his schedule was packed with electives, from choir to AP Music Theory,” Ness said. “I was shocked looking at his schedule — he doesn’t even have a lunch. I knew this was going to be an exhausting day with literally no breaks.”
With a “much-needed” extra large coffee in one hand and a schedule in the other, Ness flung his (son’s) backpack behind his shoulder and followed Saldana into first period. Mrs. Sally Graham immediately greeted Ness with a smile and introduced the “new student” of her Honors ALCUSH class, even though it was just for the day.
Graham’s students, whose final papers are based on thought-provoking question about political topics, were instructed to share their research with the class. Topics ranging from women in combat to PTSD in the Vietnam War were actively discussed among the students, and Ness chimed in with what topic he would have chosen for the project (post-Vietnam War changes in combat). Graham closed the class with protest music from the Vietnam War, and when Graham asked for the name of the song’s artist, only two students knew the answer — Saldana and Ness.
A smile stretched from ear to ear once Ness realized that the next class was history. Though he had not been in a history class since ’88, Ness says he has remained fascinated with the roots of America. Mr. Matthew Weatherington greeted the principal with a large chuckle, paired with an abundance of sarcastically playful remarks about his famous black backpack.
Ness’s eyes were glued to the board throughout the duration of the discussion, which was about the bombings in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. When he asked to go to the bathroom, Weatherington asked his class to yell his traditional answer with him:
“Yes, but not in here,” only Weatherington replied.
As soon as Ness had left the room, the students were quick to react.
“Mr. Weatherington, you have never, not once, said that,” they teased.
While Saldana paraded through the halls with a friend, Ness ran into a colleague of his own — Mr. Mark Medland. The two greeted each other with a quick high five, following with a discussion about the most recent sports upsets. Ness blended in with the sets of groups scattered throughout the hallway — it was hard to spot him after looking away for even a split second. Medland nudged Ness goodbye while commenting that their “legendary high five better have gotten on video.”
Though the day started out smooth, Ness knew what was coming — gym. Though his previous experiences consisted of exhausting lifting and cardio, his anticipated fear of heights would not come to measure with these mere exercises. This had kept him restless the night before and every step toward the contest gym was a step closer to agony. When checking the activities board, Saldana realized today was a review day before being tested on the parts of a kayak — Ness got lucky.
After spending some time practicing his rowing form for his upcoming trip to Colorado, Ness followed Saldana to the auditorium for his 10 minute “lunch” period. A series of theater kids quickly occupied the stage, most humming Broadway tunes. Though most of his friends prepare for the upcoming show, Saldana dedicates this time to completing his dreaded Spanish homework.
Featured in the most recent production of “Rent” was a pit next to the stage filled with garbage bags for the actors to land their fall. Anthony cheered Ness on as he jumped into the pit courageously, disappearing from the eye of us all.
Senior and fellow actor Alana Knobel believes that Ness shadowing a student in the critical time of “tech-week” for Rent is essential to understanding the daily hassles an actor must go through before getting to the after-school rehearsals. As for Saldana, Knobel believes he is one who has learned to balance his academics in the midst of chaos.
“Putting on a production consists of many elements that must be stringed together, and that all starts in the classroom. Anthony is one of those people that realizes that academics are of utter importance, and he is very efficient with his work,” Knobel said, as she glared over at Anthony. With one hand pushing him off balance, she asked him “is there anything else you would like me to add, superstar?”
The two quickly rushed to the opposite side of the school, on their way to Spanish 4. Only being halfway through the hallway, Mrs. Luisa Karimighovanloo began to teasingly yell at the two in Spanish. As they jogged to the door, Ness answered with the only word he knows in the entire language — “Hola.”
Though Ness could hardly understand a single word, he was able to enjoy the highlight clips of the Real Madrid vs Barcelona soccer game from the previous night. By the end of class, he admitted that he needed to brush up on his Spanish. He did walk out of class satisfied though, as he remarked: “at least I know everything about Messi now.”
“This is probably the last time I’ll ever be in PreCalc… at least I hope,” Ness said as he walked into Mrs. Amber Mosier‘s advanced class. Ness hoped to learn from the students themselves, and luckily, Anthony knew exactly what he was doing — except for on the one question that stumped the entire class.
While half the period was spent working in small groups, it was not until twenty minutes that Saldana’s hand shot in the air. “R cosine theta equals x!” he shouted, as the class let out a sigh of relief. Quickly after, Ness stood up and pointed toward his group –“Yup, that was us.”
Now, about halfway through the day, it was clear that Ness seemed to be slowing down. He concluded he needed a Starbucks run but wasn’t sure if a five-minute passing period was enough time to get to Touhy Ave.
“I’m smoked… but, I can’t give up. It’s time to dig deep and tumble on,” he said, while taking one last gulp of his coffee.
Luckily, all of the difficult academic classes were over, and it was time for the latter half of the day. All of his remaining classes were electives. They headed to Advanced Theatre Studio with Mr. Andy Sinclair, the director of the department.
“That was the weakest ‘Happy Monday’ I’ve ever heard — let me hear it again!” Sinclair shouted at the students. The class commenced with the traditional “weekend update,” which consisted of witty responses, Ness’s favorite being “I wrestled a grizzly bear because that’s what real men do” from senior Max Sorenson.
The class split into three groups and began to read their rough drafts of scripts for the upcoming ATS showcase. As Saldana’s group read theirs, Ness was actively listening, knowing his part was coming up. “Shut up, Noah!” Ness yelled across the room when his line came, as the students accompanied Sinclair in an abundance of laughter.
Sinclair has worked with Saldana throughout the past three years. Because Saldana has been enrolled in many of his courses and has partaken in multiple Niles West Theatre productions, Sinclair feels as if they have developed a significant relationship throughout the years.
“I always forget how old Anthony really is. He works like an adult, but has the passion of a young mind when it comes to theatre. He truly cares about it, and it shows in all that he does,” Sinclair said. “It’s inspiring to see how he works to become better in every single roll he is given.”
The two strolled down with majority of their classmates to the choir room, to Masters Choir with Mr. Justin Johnson. The class began with the formation of a large circle, followed by a single candle being passed around. Each person was to say one worry, and by the end of the circle, junior Riley Pranian would blow the candle out, symbolically “blowing” the worry away.
Followed by roughly 30 responses of “Rent,” the class commenced with choreography for the song “Valerie.” Ness was able to stretch his vocal chords and put on his dancing shoes (his Nike sneakers), and alongside the rest of the altos, let his voice shine through the room. Both Saldana’s and Ness’s face flooded with smiles. By the end of the class, Ness only had one thing to say: “This is why we need electives.”
As Saldana and a few other students waited for their teacher in the band room, they realized no one was coming. After ten minutes of utter confusion, Ness realized that since the sub didn’t show… he was the sub. He jokingly gestured for the students to get their books out, as they all hovered around the piano instead. Saldana played the instrument as his friends sang along to the catchy tunes from past plays. Ness served as the “cool” sub that created the “cool” study hall — students commented that it was relaxing period that was much-needed in the middle of a stressful week.
As the day’s end neared, the Black Box theatre filled instantly. The entire cast of Rent had gotten to their seats before most people had reached their lockers. Personal conversations flooded the theatre, until Sinclair stepped to the front of the room — then, utter silence.
After discussing that the main rule was to stay efficient, he announced that the booster club ordered the cast Pita Inn. What the cast did not know is that each of them would get a whopping amount of four falafels — you would not believe the uproar the word “falafel” caused among this group of kids.
After chowing down on the Pita Inn in a duration of ten minutes, the cast was instructed to change into costumes and be ready to run through the show in the next fifteen minutes. As Ness waited in the auditorium to get his VIP sneak preview of the show, he got a hit of the reality of the infamous “tech-week,” where members of the cast and crew worked extra hard and long in preparation for a production. Once he realized the students would be at school working on the show until 9 p.m., he decided he would not be able to stay for the whole thing, though it shocked him that the cast must.
When reflecting back on the day, Saldana said he believes that it is vital for Ness to continue shadowing students. He feels as if it was a very interesting experience, and he is glad to be able to show the principal the realities of being a high school student who is constantly engaged in the Fine Arts department.
As for Ness, he believes that the interaction, connection, and level of respect in the classrooms are all aspects that he would like to see continued throughout West. Ness took particular note in the values of the relationships formed through these activities, and noted that the only difference between relationships formed in the other departments is the location in the school.
“This day has helped me realize how thankful I truly am for the Fine Arts Department,” Ness concluded. “I can’t imagine Niles West without it.”