For those who don’t know, SAMi is currently going through a transition of location and its portables are now hidden in the woods of Camp 6 at Point Defiance Park. To get there one must get on a big yellow school bus at the park entrance and bump along 5 Mile Drive to the hidden site. Here, in portable G, Dustin Blatnik’s Beginning Guitar class meets on a Thursday. It’s a small room, hot and crowded with students holding guitars, cases, papers, and chairs spread out over every square foot, and the cacophony can be heard from either end of the camp. There’s method to the madness, though; while Blatnik listens to students play individually, lessons of every kind are being learned simultaneously throughout the room. Some work solo, others in groups, all of them supporting each other. They share tuners, sheets of music, and advice. “Life’s too short to not have capo” one student is heard saying. “I did it better that time!” exclaims another. Blatnik jokes off to the side that he thinks his Attention Deficit Disorder helps him to tackle this class. “This is my rambunctious class,” he says, “I’ve never taught an afternoon class before. My other classes have a more tired focus while this one display so much more energy. It’s really great to get to flex that.” Blatnik seems to know exactly where each student is with their skills and is frequently checking on each student to make sure they’re doing okay.
After half of the class period has gone by, Blatnik sings “Put your eyes on me!” It takes a few seconds, but everyone quiets as Blatnik relates a story of how a teacher once sang that to capture a young class’s attention and he sang back to her, “no, nono, no, no!” The class laughs and is quiet. “You guys are doing really great. I’m so proud of you!” Blatnik encourages. This kind of approach is clearly working for this class as not a second of their time is wasted. There’s a huge sense of trust in this room, which is terribly uncommon in high school classrooms. Students trust that Blatnik will provide them with whatever they need and will never be harshly judged by either him or fellow students. Similarly, Blatnik trusts that his students will work hard on their own and that they will be patient as he makes his way through the room. They’re told to be sure and test their playing before they all have to take a written test and the room explodes again as everyone scrambles to get the last bit of practice in. Meanwhile, the class bridge, Ezekiel Nutter, is roaming the room, offering aid to everyone. He tests their memory of scales and lends an ear to those who need a little extra help. Previously Blatnik had said, “It’s really great to have bridges because I can kind of multiply myself.” Bridges at SOTA and SAMi are upperclassmen who are assigned to a class to aid students.