Things look a little different for Oakdale Junior High Choir and Oakdale High Performing Arts students this year. And while it may have come sooner than expected, Oakdale High School alum Lezlie Acker is thrilled.
Acker is the newly appointed Theater Arts and Choir teacher for Oakdale Joint Unified secondary students. A position she describes as her dream job, yet didn’t anticipate doing at her Alma Mater for a few more years.
With a longtime love for theater, Acker earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theater from San Francisco State. She spent a few years helping with Oakdale Community Theater prior to that and shared that she also substitute taught for her former OHS drama teacher Alan Oksen. Most recently, Acker spent five years at Riverbank High School teaching drama.
She said that was a job she shared she thoroughly enjoyed, but became challenged by during the pandemic.
“In 2020, right before we shut down, we were doing Lion King,” Acker said of her final production that never was at RHS.
“It’s nice to get to do this again,” she shared of the upcoming OHS fall production, The Lion King. “We were two weeks out (at Riverbank) before we were shut down. So it really feels like I need to complete this.”
Stepping away from theater and joining forces with OJUSD, Acker joined the Oakdale Junior High staff team in 2021 as an English teacher. Noting she needed a break from the previous format, she also had a desire to teach in the district where her children were in school.
“I thought I’d have much more time at the Junior High, but I’m so excited,” she said of stepping into the role previously held by Bryan Mills. “We all miss him, but it’s so nice to be focusing and not wearing different hats anymore.”
Spending six periods of each day teaching choir or theater arts, Acker shared is not only rewarding but something she’s waited 16 years to be able to do in this capacity.
“It’s taken some adjusting not having that prep time, but it’s nice,” she said. “These kids are so productive. They’re so invested and they’re so involved that I don’t need a lot of prep time. They’re just motivated, they really want to do this.”
Overseeing a much larger program than what she managed at RHS, Acker confided that while it’s been an adjustment, it’s also been inspiring as the students’ energy for the arts is infectious.
“I’ve learned you have to listen to what the kids want. It’s not coming in and trying to change, it’s what works,” she shared. “What would they like to see change and just going from there. Just listening to them.”
Now bringing her vision of Lion King to the OHS stage, the teacher shared it’s been a lot of hands on for the students, using their creative side not just on stage but on costumes as well.
“There’s a lot of trial and error,” she said of constructing the costumes. “They might have to fail a bit. Just the pride they feel is so rewarding.”
From a young age, Acker shared the theater has always been home to her. While being on stage as a performer is her preference when not teaching, she said she loves all the areas where a student can find a fit in the theater.
“Whatever interests they have, you can find something in theater and it’s really neat to see them realize that,” she said, adding that seeing students come from all different walks of life come together is also a highlight.
“I found my identity in it, myself,” she said of her love for theater. “When I see others do that, it’s extremely rewarding. We’re here to inspire them to have confidence and do more than they ever thought they could.”
Putting together her first musical and a major one at that, was no accident. The teacher shared the students’ interest as well as her thoughts on a full circle moment, finishing the production which missed its chance at making it to the stage.
“It’s such a well-oiled machine, the way these kids are invested,” she said of the OHS students. “When I left Riverbank I was sad, because I didn’t know if I’d be back (teaching theater).”
But the pieces fell into place for the teacher to return to where she feels most at home.
“This is my dream job,” Acker stated, becoming visibly emotional. “It’s all just great. It’s the job I’ve always wanted. I feel like it’s my forever job.”