I attended DSOA before it became DSOA...back when it was PBCSOA. PBCSOA resided in a decrepit ex-middle school on North Shore Dr. in northern West Palm Beach. We had run-down, makeshift facilities, modular music practice rooms set up in portable buildings, and very little supervision. Because SOA was a magnet arts program, it tended to attract better behaved, dedicated students, so teachers wanted to work there. As a result we had some extraordinary teachers.

I graduated in 1996, which was, I believe, the third class to graduate and the last class to graduate before the school moved and changed its name. Back then the school was a middle school and a high school...grades 7-12. There were about 100 students in my graduating class.

The programs at SOA were wonderful. When I was there it was a very young school, with idealistic teachers and a progressive attitude. The theatre department did a production of the musical "Hair", and the theater department tried very hard to get the administration to let them do it naked. In the end, they wore skin-colored leotards. We had a dance teacher who had a son named "Thrasher".

I have seen the new campus, and while it is impressive, it lacks the soul that the old campus had. It has become slick and polished, and I think it has sacrificed some of the idealism and naive optimism it once possessed.

The old campus had a weird charm...we didn't have enough practice rooms, so musicians could be found rehearsing in the cafeteria, in the gym, in random grassy areas, sitting in trees... improv theater took place in the courtyard at lunch. Our principal used to refer to himself in the third person over the intercom, as if he thought we would not recognize his voice. Or maybe he was just insane.

There was a very strange, tiny room with a very low ceiling that could only be accessed by crawling under the stage in the gym/auditorium. The art rooms had paint on the walls, floor, ceiling... in my chemistry class we spray-painted the periodic table of elements on the parking lot. Each student was assigned their own element to paint.

I was Einsteinium, atomic number 99.

These all these things, combined with the creative talent and spirit of cooperation among the students, made my SOA experience truly unique. And while the new campus in its pristine facility downtown is nice... I prefer the ragtag charm of the old campus.