SACRAMENTO, CA - Many of his students struggled academically in other classes or had behavior problems, but you can't tell that in James Van Buren's classroom.
He keeps their eyes on the prize at Grant High School, where Van Buren, who's known as "Mr. V" mixes a quick wit and smiles with a no nonsense approach.
"I tell the kids all the time, you guys are the driver and we teachers are just passengers in the vehicle," Van Buren said. "We don't give away diplomas. You have to earn them. And I'd say 95 percent of the kids, they get it."
News10 caught up with Van Buren during the last week of class before the summer break. Whether it's math or earth science, he tells students what they need to do to stay on track.
"It's incumbent on everyone of us teachers to raise the bar and make them reach for it." He laughed and added, "I mean a little stress is not bad."
Van Buren started teaching after a 20-year stint as a professional saxophone player. "I played with so many (famous musicians)," he explained. "B.B. King, Average White Band and The Commodores. I had my own group, cut records and opened up shows for so many others."
Music took him all over the world and for a time he lived in Europe. But eventually he wound up back in the states where he became a police officer at CSU Long Beach.
But music was never far away and after he arrived at Grant High School, it wasn't long before Van Buren had students lining up behind him in the Grant High School Drum Line.
The drum line recently played with the Sacramento Philharmonic at CSU Sacramento. In the audience were several hundred children who are part of the Carnegie Hall Vocal and Instrumental Teaching Academy (VITA) which promotes music among K-12 students. The piece the drummers performed was especially written for them by a Carnegie composer.
It's just one of numerous trips the drummers take during the school year. "The kids have often told me this is a job," Van Buren laughed. "The schedule is extremely challenging. Last week we had 15 gigs.
And competition to get on the drum line is fierce. A classroom full of kids stay after school for Van Buren's drum line class.
Students who make the performance team spend hours practicing. But Van Buren is quick to point out academics come first. Students are not allowed to participate unless they keep their grades up.
But it all seems to work out. The youngsters listening to the drum line scream and yell their approval. "Mr. V" is obviously pleased. He just can't stop smiling as they march off stage.
He said, "I could do this for the rest of my life and be satisfied."
By Karen Massie firstname.lastname@example.org