Blog: The Educated Reporter

Nashville Magnet School Students Sing Different Tune

More than a few reporters at EWA’s National Seminar who signed up for the visit to Pearl Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School in Nashville suggested that the campus would certainly be infused with country music elements. Perhaps cowboy hats and boots on each student, with future Taylor Swifts and Scotty McCreerys singing their way through the halls – right?

Vincent Pitts, an energetic Pearl-Cohn student who met with the EWA members, said country music—the backbone of Nashville’s economy and national image—was not a genre he and many of his classmates was drawn to naturally.

“Country music tells a story, but it is usually kind of slow,” said Pitts. “R&B tells a story, too.”

Though he favors the latter, Pitts said he was growing to like country, in part because he is working as an intern at Warner Music Nashville, a major music label. The internship came about because of Pearl Cohn High’s entertainment magnet theme. Pitts is also the president of the high school’s own music label, Relentless Entertainment Group, which in partnership with Warner takes student artists from song creation to production and record distribution.

Sonia Stewart, Pearl-Cohn’s principal, noted some of the other unique features about the 825-student high school. The campus is organized into three small academies: the Freshman Academy, the Academy of Entertainment Management, and the Academy of Entertainment Communication. The management academy includes areas of study such as audio engineering and TV production. Students in the communication academy study marketing, publishing, image consulting, and the recording industry.

“We want to be a place where kids really dream and aspire to great things,” said Stewart, though that doesn’t necessarily mean a career as a musical artist or record company executive. The school also has 18 Advanced Placement and honors courses, Stewart said.

Pearl Cohn was created in 1983 when two Nashville high schools were merged as part of a citywide desegregation plan. A new building opened in 1986. Enrollment is 94 percent African American. And 86 percent of students qualify for free- and reduced-price meals, the highest percentage in the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.

Some snapshots from a morning visit in May:

In an AP Language and Composition class, students polish and deliver speeches about a person or event that inspired them.

In a large studio classroom, the student board of directors of the Relentless Entertainment Group meets to discuss its latest album of student music, and to review how a recent concert production. “Things went well, but we had too much congestion backstage,” a student says.

At the new Pearl Cohn Studios, there are shiny Apple Mac desktop computers and a professional-quality recording studio for student use. “This is actually a lot nicer than some of the [professional] studios around town,” says Tanner Lenox, a student who is studying audio engineering, and operated the sound board like a pro.

At the high school’s TV studio, the editing and directing consoles appeared to be professional grade. It turns out they were donated by the Golf Channel. That’s where TV production teacher Todd Young worked for several years before coming to Pearl Cohn. The school’s TV production crews televise or record school performances and other events throughout the year. “We have a 10th-grade young lady here who is the best TV director I’ve ever worked with,” Young says.

Despite the glitz, Pearl Cohn High faces its share of challenges, said principal Stewart. It is not immune to violence that pervades some of the poor Nashville neighborhoods around it. Racial isolation seems to be a persistent challenge—the proportion of black students enrolled in the school has increased slightly each year for the past four years, while the proportion of white students has declined, despite the attributes of the entertainment magnet theme.

The high school’s composite score on the ACT college admissions test is 15.4 (out of a possible 36), which is up from 14.8 the previous year but still not overwhelming.

“Our scores are improving,” Stewart said.


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