James Van Buren
Science and Drum Line instructor, Grant High School
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Kansas and raised in Colorado. I moved to California as a teenager with a band I was in at the time. While in Southern California our van broke down and all of the other band members went back to Colorado and I stayed in California. After a number of challenging events I ended up collaborating with the band O'Bryan, a group signed to Capital Records. After that, I started my own band and moved to Northern California. I then moved to London for a little less than a year and realized that I needed to get an education. I moved back to Southern California started a family and began working as a Public Safety Officer at the California State University Office of the Chancellors while simultaneously starting college and working toward a degree in Political Science. It took me ten years to complete my degree and I decided to become a Teacher. I moved to Sacramento and entered the teaching program at California State University Sacramento first earning a multiple subject credential and 4 years later a credential in Special Education. I currently live in Elk Grove; I am married with 5 young adult children who are all very successful. I teach Science and Health at Grant Union High School: I'm also the Director of the Grant Drum Line.
How are you making a difference in your community?
My own experience as an educator combined with compelling research leads me believe that social emotional competencies are an important complementing element to academic preparation in helping students succeed in college or the workforce and maintaining mental health. There has also been recognition that these factors offer promising levers for raising the achievement of underprivileged children and, ultimately, closing achievement gaps based on ethnicity and income. Every student that was initially failing at Grant before they joined the Drum Line now has at least a 2.0 GPA! Eight years ago, Grant High School founded the Grant High Drum Line with the ambition to give students the opportunity to tap into their musical nature while simultaneously building their sense of self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship skills. Since its inception, the program has provided students with the opportunity to become accustomed to fulfilling leadership and related roles. Grant High School is rooted in one of the most economically challenged, and crime infested cities in the nation, yet all of the students on the Drum Line have managed to stay socially regulated and focused on their goals to attend college and enter the workforce. It should be noted that the student ranked 13th of all the student body at Grant is on the Drum Line. As the program has grown over the years, student achievement outcomes have increased significantly. That is how I have made a difference.
Why is this work important to you?
My time spent interacting with students has been one of the most fulfilling endeavors that I have ever done in my life. After taking students to Washington DC, Tokyo, Matsuyama, Gogo Shima, Hiroshima, Miyajima Japan and Hollywood it has become clear to me that my work as an educator is placing students lives on a positive trajectory that is Iife changing. Nothing can be more fulfilling.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
If you're talking about work experience I would have to say the success that I've had with my drum line. I don't know any other high school drum line that has accomplished what we have. We have been on the Jimmy Kimmmel Show with ABC show Good Morning America host Robin Roberts. We have opened up for legendary drummer Sheila E, Protégé of Prince, Johnny Gill and Yolanda Adams. In addition, we played for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. We also performed at the 2015 Presidential Independence Day parade in Washington DC and performed in Japan for the 35th Sister City anniversary of Sacramento and Matsuyama and 10th anniversary of Grant High School and Matsuyama Japan High School. We've been on the front page of numerous magazines and publications and even featured in the Huffington Post. If you're talking about my personal life, I am very proud of all of my kids accomplishments. I have a Son in the third year of medical school, a Daughter who is finishing a nursing program at San Jose State University, a Daughter who is a business owner, a Daughter who completed Culinary School and worked for famous chef, food critic, and TV personality Bobby Flay and a Son who is a musician, poet and has successful career in the restaurant industry.
What have you struggled most with in your life?
My struggle is not being able to limit my list of things I need to do down to what is manageable. Currently, I vex over what I have not accomplished instead of celebrating my achievements. I am working on changing that.
What kind of lessons do you work to instill in your kids?
I have always told my kids "Be you, have faith in yourself and stay focused". The adage "hard work pays off" is not just an adage, it's the truth. "No one can do you, better than you".
If there were one problem in our community that you wish you could fix, what would it be?
There are numerous problems in my community and those problems mirror the world on a micro level. There is no way I can address them all. I believe if I continue to do what I do, the outcome of my work will change each one of them in a positive way.
How do you decompress?
I love to travel to New York, see plays, listen to jazz, play music, eat good food and enjoy time with my wife.