Back Onstage! Community Life 2021-22

Last school year Community Life went to Zoom, but this year CL events are back on the big stage.


Erick Maganda ('23)

Mariachi Continental de San Diego perform at Community Life in the PRS Gym.

“Sometimes I stop and think: ‘I’m at work right now?’” said Eva Schmidt, the coordinator of the Community Life program at PRS. It sounds like Ms. Schmidt enjoys the Community Life events just as much as the students, faculty, parents and everyone else who gathers to enjoy the guest performers and speakers that appear at PRS throughout the year. Last year, Community Life events lost the chance to bring the whole school together in person, due to pandemic social distancing restrictions, but this year Community Live events were back onstage in a big way.

The Community Life program has been running since the founding of Pacific Ridge School in 2007, and over the past school year students have gathered almost every Thursday to enjoy one of Pacific Ridge’s favorite traditions. Community Life is a showcase of different cultures, communities and passions that various PRS service learning groups, affinity or alliances groups, clubs, and even individual students organize in hopes of educating and enlightening each other. “It is about bringing together the community and speaks to the idea of purposeful life in our school’s mission,” explained Ms. Schmidt.

Kara Mack’s ensemble got everyone up on their feet for the Black History Month Community Life event. (PRS Black Student Union)

Whether it is a group of dancers, a band or an expert speaker, Community Life is an engaging and memorable experience that is a product of student and faculty collaboration. As a way to reflect on and celebrate the school year now ending, the PRS student journalists sent out a survey to all students, faculty and staff to ask for their most vivid memories of Community Life presentations during the 2021-22 school year.  Here are just some of the many great events that people wrote about in their responses.

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15), also known as Latino or Latinx Heritage Month, the PRS Latinx Unidos affinity group organized an engaging and exciting Mariachi performance by the local band, Mariachi Continental de San Diego. Since the focus of the community life was different forms of Latino music, the Latinx Unidos affinity group first shared a video that highlighted each of their member’s favorite music type. Following the video was an interactive performance from Mariachi Continental de San Diego, who encouraged students to clap and sing to the music. During “La Bamba,” a song that comes from the folk music style of the Veracruz region in Mexico and later became a rock’n’roll hit by Ritchie Valens and then Los Lobos, students were out of their seats dancing and singing along. One student shared how, “It was fun, the music was nice and the performance was even better.” Another student said, “the fact that it was music made it really cool.”

Parker Olenick shows his surfing style. (Challenged Athletes Foundation)

Another Community Life event that many survey participants reported enjoying was the presentation given by Parker Olenick from the Challenged Athletes Foundation. The service learning group, Opportunities for Athletes, invited Parker to speak about his sports experience as someone who faces physical challenges due to cerebral palsy. Parker’s passion for surfing, hockey and several other sports was an inspiration for many in the audience, and so was his great sense of humor. One student commented in our survey, “It was very cool learning about their lives and how they play sports.” While many of us see sports as an ordinary daily activity, Parker’s speech highlighted not to take sports for granted, but to really enjoy them and make sure that they are organized in inclusive ways. An interview with Parker, presented by the Challenged Athletes Foundation, can be seen here.

Kara Mack was guest of honor at PRS Black History Month Community Life. (Dance Mogul Magazine)

Another respondent to the Community Life survey said they enjoyed the performance by Kara Mack and her co-performers, organized by the Black Student Union for Black History Month: “I liked the cultural immersion through the music. The performers were also very interactive with the audience throughout the whole presentation.” Kara Mack teaches West African dance and much more through her organization Africa in America, explaining her mission by calling herself “a Southern belle and an artistic theologian”.  She has been a choreographer for an amazing list of highly accomplished projects and organizations: the NAACP Image Awards, the BET Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, the VMA Awards, American Idol and the Voice. She is also an accomplished singer and organizes a national summer reading program for students through Africa in America. At PRS, Ms. Mack’s talented troupe brought dance, music and multilingual poetry together in a pan-African performance that succeeded in combining a culture lecture with an entertaining and suspenseful show that kept the audience intrigued. Most students who responded to our survey mentioned the word “interactivity” when talking about this particular Community Life. We kept seeing phrases like “the interactivity of it,” “entertaining” and “it engaged everyone.” This event, like several others in Community Life this year, definitely showed that music has been one of the most effective ways of catching the school audience’s attention. Or, as one survey respondent answered, “The fact that it was music made it really cool.”

Louise Lerner, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, spoke to a school-wide Community Life audience on January 27th, 2022. (Holocaust Museum LA)

To honor Holocaust survivors, and to remember those lost during those terrible events, the Jewish Affinity Group invited Holocaust survivor, Louise Lerner, to speak about her experiences. While she wasn’t able to be at PRS in person, as she lives in France, her Zoom presentation was just as powerful. One student recalled that her presentation was “intriguing, and it is important to remember those events and remember those that survived since there aren’t many left.” Ms. Lerner spoke without a script for nearly an hour, telling a life story that took her and her audience from Europe to South America to Israel and to the USA, a huge and dramatic odyssey that also revealed how Ms. Lerner speaks so many languages fluently and has adapted so many times to huge challenges that many people never have to face even once. Her personality was both passionate and humble, touching many students’ hearts as she shared her powerful and important memories and perspective on humanity. A video of a similar talk by Ms. Lerner, hosted by the Holocaust Museum LA, can be seen here.

Corey Peterschmidt’s book, Amelia Erroway: Castaway Commander. (Scholastic Books, Graphix imprint)

One of the last Community Life events of the year was Corey Peterschmidt’s comic book presentation and this was definitely one of our survey’s favorites. The event was based on a presentation about the creative process for Corey’s new book, Amelia Erroway: Castaway Commander, mixed with Corey’s personal story about growing up and evolving as a person, including a gender transition. “I enjoyed that the presentation was funny, and Corey put a lot of emotion into it and made it more interesting and interactive for us,” wrote one student in our survey. Corey started the event by drawing a picture of PRS’s Firebird that immediately drew people’s attention and curiosity. Instead of delivering a lecture-style speech, Corey acted out dialogues from the Amelia Erroway comic book, including sounds that simulated special effects and not just human voices. “It was entertaining and more relatable to our generation’s speech patterns,” wrote one of our survey participants. With the majority of the audience being of course teenagers, Corey used their sense of humor and energy to entertain the audience while teaching us about art and life. “They were very interesting to hear from. I learned a lot about the comic art industry,” wrote another student. The PRS librarian, Valerie Cummings, has now ordered a copy of Amelia Erroway for the PRS Library.

As we noted above, there was one very common request from students when our Community Life survey asked, “Can you give examples of performances or speakers that you would be interested to see in the future?” And that request was…

More musical performances!

Typical quotes were: “More music from different cultures,” “More musicians, they’re some of the best people you’ll meet,” “More music stuff,” and “More music performances!!!” There was much more of that same kind of response, but you get the idea.

The combination of diverse, entertaining and skillfully interactive musical performers, and informative and relatable speakers, has made Community Life really fun and educational this school year. The program has inspired lots of great energy and learning and, judging by the enthusiastic response to our survey, it looks like the PRS student body is ready for even more Community Life next year