For two days, a Brentwood class of middle-schoolers was captivated by Benson Ocen with his tales of life in Uganda.

Teacher Stacey Smith said her Bristow students had been "studying culture and migration in class" and had just finished viewing the "God Grew Tired of Us" documentary about the "Lost Boys" of Sudan.

"It was great to have a speaker who has been through a similar experience and was able to share that with my students," she said. "The (students) were really engaged." The speaking engagement was set up by Danielle Teal, mother of two Excelsior students (Makayla and Max).

Smith said that Ocen's talk gave her seventh/eighth-grade geography students a "better understanding of life in Africa. They got a glimpse into the Ugandan culture and the hardships that people face." After the talk, Ocen led a Q&A with students wanting info about culture, entertainment, holidays, transportation, sports, food and more.

Ocen is the founder and director of ILA, the Acholi word for "lift me up," but he also uses an English acronym for "I Live Again." According to Danielle Teal, the organization focuses on "resettling families back into their villages, becoming self sufficient though offering micro loans to build a business and through trauma counseling." "He is extremely excited about teaching students all over the world about his people," Teal said. "He is, by far, one of the most fascinating and passionate people I have ever met. He has an amazing way of connecting with all people but especially children. We are all so thankful that he extended such an opportunity to speak to this class." For more info, visit www.ilauganda.org.


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ABUNDANCE OF MUSIC: An annual music program featured 130 students representing five schools, giving the audience a night to remember.

The recent Deer Valley High fall orchestra concert featured student musicians from Black Diamond Middle School Orchestra (Damian Ting), Antioch High School String Orchestra (Mark Petrowsky), Dozier-Libbey Medical High School Orchestra (Larry Widener), Deer Valley High School Orchestra (Damian Ting) and Ygnacio Valley High School String Orchestra (Zachary Pattison).

Ting, who coordinated the 11th annual event, said the nearly two-hour program featured 17 pieces from the baroque, classical, romantic and contemporary periods of music history.

Each school performed a few pieces on its own. Highlights included Donegal Fiddles, an arrangement of two Irish reels (BDMS); "Concert in D" from Bach's "Clavier Concerto No. 3" (YVHS); "Alla Tchaikovksy" (AHS); Rossini's "The Barber of Seville Overture" (DLMHS); Brian Balmages' "It Takes One to Tango" for solo cello and orchestra featuring DVHS senior Sarah Ogden on cello, and Doug Spata's "Maharajah" (rhythms and motifs from Indian music from DVHS).

Ting said all string orchestra students joined together at the end to perform "War March of the Priests" from "Athalia" and "Farandole" from "L'Arlesienne Suite No. 2." Ting said this is the first time a middle school was involved.

"My hope was to encourage our students to continue their orchestra studies at the high school level, wherever they might go," he said.

"They were able to see what the high school students can do. All of them were in awe after seeing Sarah Ogden perform her cello solo."

He thinks this type of event is a "great opportunity for music students from different schools to be able to share their music with each other and also to make music together. They get to share something very positive with the community."

Sharon Vela, longtime music teacher, said "It sounded like a symphony orchestra when the 100-plus strings performed the finale, and a glorious performance of 'Farandole.'"

Vela is a big supporter of the annual event. "Music education is so valuable to children."

If you have school news to share, contact Trine Gallegos at trineg@att.net. Note: Trine also does community outreach for Antioch High.