Visual and Performing Arts

The Visual and Performing Arts Department


Visual and performing arts classes at ALHS are designed to provide a comprehensive and sequential instruction over a course of 2, 3, or 4 years.  All courses fulfill the one-year graduation requirement of the district, the upper division elective requirements for college readiness, and are A-G approved for entrance to the State and UC system. Courses are two semesters in length and expose students to a broad spectrum of skills, techniques, concepts and cultural contexts important to literacy in the arts. We provide multileveled instruction in the fields of dance, drawing and painting, drama, ceramics, photography, coding and computer art, guitar, band*, orchestra*, choir* and architectural design. We offer four Advanced Placement College level courses (AP Music Theory, AP 2D Art and Design, AP 3D Art and Design, and AP Art History) that may earn the student college credit upon successful completion of the AP Exam. Each AP course also gives students a one point GPA boost. Students intending to major in VAPA in college should take 2–4 years of high school VAPA course work. Our students often continue their studies in college, art, music school or vocational school.

Visual and Performing Arts courses are aligned with the California Visual and Performing Arts Standards and SFUSD Standards.

*These course are on hiatus due to COVID restrictions.


Visual and Performing Arts STAFF:


  • Photography

Sean Gresens-

  • AP Music Theory*
  •  Introductory piano*
  •  Intro to guitar

* based on student interest

Kathleen Lussier-West-

  • Drawing and Painting 1
  • AP 2D Studio Art     

Karen J Melander-

  • VAPA Dept. Chair
  • ACE Academy ( Architecture, Construction, and Engineering)
  • AP Art History
  • Art and Architecture
  • Advanced Art and Architecture

Tania Padilla- 

  • Creative Computing( Art and Coding)

Brenda Palaby-

  • Dance
  • Advanced Dance


  • Ceramics
  •  AP 3 D Studio Art

Elaine Walenta

  • Drama
  • Advanced Drama
  • Theater Tech


Course Offerings:

PERFORMING ARTS: Drama, Advanced Drama, Theater Technology, Advanced Theater Technology, Dance and Advanced Dance, Band 2 and 3*,  Chorus 1 and 2*, Guitar 1 and 2, Piano 1 and 2, AP Music Theory.

VISUAL ARTS: Art and Architecture, AP Art History, Advanced Architectural Design,  Ceramics, AP 3D Studio art,  Creative Computing (coding and art), Digital Media and Design Academy, Drawing and Painting, AP 2 D Studio Art, Photography.

*Suspended due to COVID




Dance 1 

Dance 1 is designed to introduce students to the basics of dance in a variety of styles including ballet, contemporary, hip hop, jazz, and more. Over the course of the year, students will learn technique, creative movement, dance vocabulary, and dance etiquette. They will be expected to move, create, perform, and reflect while completing creative tasks individually and collaboratively. Upon successful completion of the course, students may enroll in a more advanced dance level the following year with teacher approval


Dance 2

Dance 2 is designed for the intermediate or advanced dancer who has successfully completed Dance 1 or who has at least one year of technical dance experience already. Students will continue to strengthen their skills and knowledge of movement in a variety of styles, and will begin to dive deeper into their choreographic skills. Students are expected to move, create, perform, and reflect throughout this year-long course.



AP Music Theory

This course builds upon the skills developed in the Intro to Piano and Intro to Guitar classes with the end goal of students earning college credit by passing the College Board AP Music Theory exam administered in May. More importantly, however, it will provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the “building blocks” of music, with the hope that this will improve both their performance and enjoyment of various musical styles and instruments.

AP Music Theory will begin with a brief review of the topics covered in Intro to Piano and Intro to Guitar: basic musical notation, rhythm, major/minor scales, key signatures, and concepts such as timbre, texture, and expression. Following this review, we will learn the structure of chords and the contexts in which they can be used (i.e., chord progressions) while developing our understanding of 18th-century style voice leading. Students will learn how to identify and compose melodies, harmonies, and chord progressions. Additionally, students will develop their aural skills via ear training exercises in which they will transcribe by ear a melody, harmony, and chord progression. Finally, students will learn how to sight read and sing written melodies.

The skills listed above will prepare students for the AP Music Theory exam. Additionally, it is the instructor’s hope that students will be able to apply these skills to their own musical craft--be it performing a solo instrument, performing within a musical ensemble, writing about music, curating/listening to music, or composing/performing their own music. Student goals and interests will be taken into account at the beginning of the school year, and this class will contain periodic workshops in which students will be able to apply the content learned toward their own musical goals.

Because of the accelerated nature of this class, students are required to have prior experience performing music. Students who are interested in taking this course but do not yet have musical experience are encouraged to take one or both of the Intro to Piano and Intro to Guitar classes--both of which will prepare them for this class.

Introduction to Piano

This class will function both as an introduction to playing the piano as well as an introduction to music theory as a whole. Students will learn about pitch, rhythm, tempo, chords, major/minor scales, dynamics, and expression as they learn to play various styles of music on the piano. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to collaborate with each other in the form of duets, multi-instrumental performances, and jam sessions. By the end of this class, students will be prepared to enter AP Music Theory.

Introduction to Guitar

This class will function both as an introduction to playing the guitar as well as an introduction to music theory as a whole. Students will learn about pitch, rhythm, tempo, chords, major/minor scales, dynamics, and expression as they learn to play various styles of music on the guitar. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to collaborate with each other in the form of duets, multi-instrumental performances, and jam sessions. By the end of this class, students will be prepared to enter AP Music Theory.



Drama 1 will  teach the fundamentals of theater. Students will learn movement and vocal techniques as well as theater vocabulary. Students will also learn to work in an ensemble as well as individually. The second part of the course will focus on theater history and basic scene study.


Students will continue to study important aspects of theater as well as focusing on the production and performance element of drama. Students will investigate various ways to build a character and create a relationship. Traditional and non-traditional theater methods of acting will also be explored. Students will be required to put in after school hours to work on various drama productions. Previous theatrical experience required.


Students will be instructed in all aspects of operating and maintaining the stage, auditorium, the surrounding areas, the lighting and sound system. Students must be available for selected activities, such as: assemblies, rallies, shows, concerts, and selected football and basketball games. Students and their parents will be required to sign a contract, which is a commitment of participation.

Emphasis will be placed on the production element of theater and each student will be expected to put in a number of hours outside of the normal class time. Students are expected to work after school preparing for theatrical events, late into the evening and/or on weekend hours. The amount of construction time needed depends on the show, the number of sets, and complexity of the set/light design, as well as the size, experience, and commitment of the technical crew. A student must participate in the production of shows to fulfill the outside hours requirement.


Continuing students will receive additional instruction in all aspects of operating and maintaining the stage, auditorium, the surrounding areas, the lighting and sound system. This will be a training ground for students wishing to become Stage or Assistant Stage Managers. Students will be required to be available for all selected activities. Students and their Parents will be required to sign a contract, which is a commitment of participation.



Digital art allows students to express their creativity using modern technology.   For further exploration in computer applications students can continue with the Digital Media and Design Pathway (by application only-Mr. Goncalves)- For more information check the ALHS website under "school info", "academies and pathways". For coding and Computer Science- students can further their studies with AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A.

Creative Computing is an introductory course whereby students study and generate static and dynamic digital art to explore, critically discuss, and create art.  Students will study the fundamentals of art (color, shape, composition, perspective, texture, light, and animation principles). The course will introduce students to the essential computer science concepts including algorithm development, abstraction, data representation, binary, the Internet and social media. Students will use these art and computer science fundamentals to create artistic pieces in project- based learning.

Unit 1 Principles of Art and Digital Art 

Processing is a software sketchbook and computer language that is used to create art within the context of coding. The principles of art, visual concepts, and basic Processing skills will be discussed and applied to a variety of inquiry- based projects that students develop demonstrating their critical thinking skills. 

Unit 2 Composition and Design

The discussion and exploration of foundational design principles will be extended to incorporate the role of composition, perspective and scale with respect to directing a viewer’s attention and create mood. Context will be provided as students examine both traditional fine art and contemporary computational art creations to identify the use of the golden mean, perspective, scale, movement, rhythm, contrast, balance and pattern. Research and analytical skills will be used to identify types of design, media selection and visual concepts. to communicate the interaction between the individual and their place in society.  

Unit 3  Typography, Layout, Web Portfolio and Creative Coding

Typography and layout will be investigated to determine how these design principles contribute to conveying different messages in print and in on-line communications. Basic typographical terms will be introduced to analyze and describe, compare and contrast visual communications. Examples of color, contrast, repetition and alignment in contemporary local community messaging will be the foci of discussion and analysis in effective visual communication.

Unit 4 Digital Photography

Digital photography will be used to create, and edit  photos as well as provide a medium for exploring Computer Science concepts such as decomposition and abstraction. Digital photography basics will build on principles of composition, adding balance, rule of thirds, leading lines, frame villing, viewpoint and depth of field. Photojournalism will be used as an exemplar in the conveyance of messages about contemporary societal problems. 

Unit 5 Animation and Audio

Motion and time will be used to introduce the principles of animation. Historical animation (early Disney) and contemporary computational art animations will provide a context for telling a story and conveying a mood. Computational skills, introducing interactive modes, will be used to change aspects of art over time. A simple model of physics will be used to cover the basics of physically based animations.

Unit 6 Explore Task Project: Emergent Art Technology Project

The increase in availability, access, exposure and prevalence of digital art provides a new medium (or media) for “canvases” of the future. Digital textiles, 3D printing, audio processing and virtual reality are extending the reaches of traditional art. The availability of incubator businesses in the local area will be exploited (through visiting speakers and field trips) to provide access to some of the newest and prototypic technologies under development. Exploration of the existing technologies will provide a starting point for students to ideate possibilities for new means of artistic expression to bring awareness and a possible solution to a pressing community concern. 




ACE ACADEMY( Architecture, construction and engineering) Ms. Karen Melander

The ACE Academy is a college prep program for highly motivated and skilled students who have an interest in art, architecture, construction, and engineering,  or just a more rigorous college prep education.  It integrates math, engineering, design, and the study of architecture and art history. Summer reading required. For more information check the ALHS website under "school info", "academies and pathways".



ACE 1 Art and Architecture  (meets UC A-G graduation requirement), cored with biology. Students in ACE Academy who are not language immersion students are required to take algebra and geometry in the 9th grade.

Art and Architecture is an introductory level, two semester, survey class designed to provide instruction for the secondary student in the fundamental concepts of architecture, engineering and aesthetic appreciation. The core curriculum emphasizes and integrates academic, practical, technical, and artistic skills. Students must be highly motivated and work well independently.  Architecture meets the first year requirement for the Architecture, Construction and Engineering pathway at ALHS.  

Competencies and Outcomes:  Students will learn how to recognize and apply the elements and principles of design in both 2D and 3D using the appropriate mechanical tools.  Students will follow the stages of the design process to create a scaled structural project from beginning to end while becoming familiar with and executing architectural plans, elevations, isometric views and models.


Unit One: Introduction to Art and Architecture:architectural lettering, sketching techniques, basic drafting techniques, measurement, use of lead weights and technical equipment. Basic layout and presentation skills.

Unit Two:  The Elements and Principles of Design.   How are the Elements of Design- line, shape, form, color, value, texture, and pattern used according to the Principles of Organization (balance, proportion, order, harmony, rhythm and dominance) to create a beautiful and unified work of art?  

Practical Applications: Exploring the use of the elements and principles of design through  technical drawing, studio work and group presentations.

 Unit Three: Two Dimensional Drawing and Design: Drafting and design of geometric figures. Color theory.  How do we use professional drafting equipment to create 2D figures?  Drafting shape and color- made up of squares, circles, hexagons, octagons etc.  Design, sketch and draft and paint an original color wheel in acrylics. Design, draft and model a stained glass window.

 Unit Four: Three Dimensional Drawing and Design.  Learning to visualize, create, and draw 3D forms using the additive and subtractive methods including cube, sphere, cylinder, cone, pyramid  Isometric drawings. Orthographic projection, 2 point perspective. Drafting to scale in 3D, model making in 3D with clay and paper, introduction to CAD (computer assisted drawing)

 Unit Five:Basic Structural Devices Through Architectural History Bearing wall, post and lintel, the truss,  the arch, the dome, the cantilever and suspension.  How do structures stand up? Sketching, drafting and design, model making. 

Unit Six:   EAA Competition-Engineers Alliance for the Arts-

(  In groups, research and design a functional and sustainable bridge to scale for a given purpose and community. Present your model to a group of like students and engineers as part of a multi-school competition. Optional exploration of CAD for bridge design (West Point Bridge Design free software.

Final Project:  Design a playhouse or treehouse to scale within a set of functional criteria.  Make a model of it.  Draw it in plan view, elevation view and a 3D isometric view with color.


AP Art History  (meets UC A-G graduation requirement), cored with English , 34 students

Recommended Prerequisites: proficient reading level, interest, GPA, work ethic and attendance.

A.P. Art History chronologically covers the history of art and architecture from the ancient world to the modern day across cultures and continents.

A.P. Art History not only seeks to understand history though studying its works of art, but also to understand art by studying the context in which it was created. Works of art document history. How does art change through time, as society and culture change? What can art tell us about the people who lived and worked during the time period? Students will learn to recognize art and architecture, its creator, time period, and meaning, students will write about art using the vocabulary necessary, compare and contrast different works, and learn how artists borrow from one another. Students learn how to collect and organize information, cross-reference it and write coherently about it using the proper vocabulary.  The focus in this class is on building higher level critical thinking skills through advanced reading, writing, speaking and conceptual analysis of art and architecture.


 For the independent and motivated student. 

Advanced Art and Architecture utilizes the drawing, design and construction skills attained in Art and Architecture and AP 2D Design and AP3D Design and applies the conceptual knowledge of context, function and form gained in AP Art History.  It is a project- based class. Students design a home in the fall term and compete in the local Architecture Foundation Design contest spring term.  

Recommended Prerequisites: Art and Architecture and AP Art History or by permission. 11th and 12th grade only. Mandatory summer assignment.

Fall Term: career exploration, LEED and sustainability, American residential architecture and architects, house design and model building project

Spring Term: Modern world architecture and architects, commercial building design and model making,  Architecture Foundation building design and competition.


Students will improve their drawing and hand building skills by electing to take AP 3D or AP 2D Art ( see below for course descriptions)in their Junior or senior year before moving on to Advanced Art and Architecture or after completing Advanced Art and  Architecture

Additional enrichment classes are offered in conjunction with CCSF, Youth Art Exchange (YAX), and ACE Mentorship.




Drawing and Painting is a course designed as an overview of the visual arts and art-making by exploring a variety of materials and techniques. Students will learn 2-dimensional techniques like drawing, painting, and collage and then use those skills and techniques as design tools in the process of making 3-dimensional art like mask-making and sculpture.  It is open to 9-12 graders. 

Explore materials:  cut paper, pencil, pens, charcoal/ pastel, paint, paper mache

Build skills and develop craftsmanship:

Observing, Drawing, Cutting, Gluing, Making

Practice thinking creatively and adding personal meaning

Students can use their life experiences as ideas for art work.

Look at and talk about art:  Use vocabulary and concepts such as the Elements of Art to understand,  design and reflect on one’s own art. Upon successful completion of Art 1 and 2, students may take AP 2D Studio Art.

AP 2D ART and DESIGN: MS. WEST By application only. A course for students who have successfully completed Drawing and Painting, Art and Architecture, or by permission.  Students must demonstrate technical competence, building and refining skills using a range of media; pencil, pen, chalk, crayon, watercolor and ink, paper mache and clay. Students will learn to think, talk and write about art through the study of artists and art concepts from a variety of cultures and time periods. Craftsmanship, self – expression and experimentation are emphasized.



CERAMICS  Students are introduced to methods and materials used in Ceramics, including hand building techniques used for the construction and surface decoration of clay, such as; clay modeling, slab building, pinching, and coil construction. Students are also encouraged to produce wheel thrown pottery and sculpture. The practice of good craftsmanship, self-expression, and experimentation are emphasized. Students study the art of many cultures including Asia, the Americas, Africa and Europe. Students are required to participate in reflective writing, drawing, and to maintain a binder, which includes notes, vocabulary and procedures. Upon successful completion of Ceramics 1, students may take Advanced Ceramics or AP 3D Art and Design.

Project Title: Mask Project

Project Description: Students have compared and contrasted masks from the Japanese Noh mask tradition and those of contemporary California artists Bill Abright. Students have designed masks, using cultural examples for inspiration – and imagination unique to their own perception, conveying a personal message about the mood and influences of the times in which we live. The students have learned to use several ceramic techniques and simple shapes to create expressive facial features. Masks are distorted, exaggerated and/or realistic. The quantity of them – of many smaller masks forming a larger sculpture speaks to surprise, a familiar form, yet unexpected: absurdity, playfulness, the individual vs. the group, etc.

Slab Boxes with Incised Decoration 

After constructing a functional box, ceramics students explored the rich design traditions of Asia and used those ideas to decorate their work. They learned a new method of hand building and surface decoration, and they also learned that in Buddhist art, the lotus is a symbol that is rich in meaning; that it represents the true nature of beings, who rise above their circumstances into the beauty and clarity of enlightenment, or triumph over adversity. The lotus is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols that permeate Buddhist art.

Gargoyle, Grotesques, Lions, Chimeras & Little Monsters

The students built gargoyles, grotesques, lions, chimeras - and little monsters -  that are scary, mythical, sometimes humorous creatures that have decorative, functional and sometimes spiritual significance in medieval architecture. Students built them as a hollow form using a variety of sculptural techniques.

The shape of the Pilgrim Bottle -- or Moon Flask is based on metal containers used by travelers along the Silk Route for holy water from shrines. The traditional Chinese form is decorative rather than practical and was inspired by exposure to new customs and cultures. These Moon Flasks are done by Ceramics 2 students. (below)


Students taking AP 3D studio art will need to work independently and be prepared with ideas for each class period. In this college level course you will pursue the investigation of three-dimensional sculptural forms. It is important to learn to express yourself in your own personal style, using the elements and principles of art. Students will develop mastery in concept, composition and execution. Critiques with peers and teacher will be an ongoing process and will be part of the assessment for the course grade. Other assessments will be formative (critiques, brainstorming, individual teacher feedback to your progress) and summative (tests) as projects are completed. AP 3D Studio Art is a program administrated by College Board to provide highly motivated students with an opportunity to earn college credit. Students will create a portfolio of artwork exploring three-dimensional art and documentation of that work with digital photography. In early May, students will submit their completed portfolio of digital images to the College Board for scoring. If students receive a passing score of 3, 4, or 5, they may receive college credit for the class. Students also earn an extra point on their GPA for this class. AP 3D Studio Art meets the University of California A - G Visual and Performing Arts & elective requirements.




An introductory course in Black and White film photography. The course is designed to serve students who have probably never used a manual camera or worked in a dark room before. Concepts and skills that will be covered throughout the year-long course include:

  • The scientific and artistic history of photography and the camera obscura
  • Building and using a pinhole camera
  • Making a “photogram”
  • How to operate a manual 35mm SLR camera
  • How to compose interesting photographs
  • How to process negatives, make proof sheets, and enlarged prints
  • How to participate in self and groups critiques of their work
  • Laws around shooting in public and intellectual property
  • How to “bracket” their shots and compensate for a light meter’s limitations
  • How to use the camera aperture to control depth of field
  • How to use the camera shutter to control motion effects
  • How to plan for a project that has several steps, execute the project, and prepare it for presentation
  • How to create a thesis of several photographs around a central theme
  • Why a print of a photographer is considered “good” and how to assess the quality of a piece

By the end of the course, students will be comfortable and competent in all aspects of basic camera operation, shooting and darkroom skills. They should be well prepared for college level photography programs.