When Tyler ISD opened its Early College High School last fall, they knew students would need ways to reduce stress while working to simultaneously manage college and high school.

"They need an outlet; they need a way to decompress," Program Director DelSenna Frazier said. "What they lose out on, we try to provide here and maybe even offer more."

Located at the former Stewart Middle School, Early College High School prepares freshman and sophomore students to earn their associate's degree at Tyler Junior College by the time they graduate high school.

Frazier said she still wants students to have that high school experience, even if they aren't attending a traditional school. That's why she brought on George Jones to form a drama club for the students. The school also offers a soccer club, Zumba classes and other activities.

Jones is a familiar face in the local entertainment industry. He runs Tours of Tyler, which is responsible for staging the original Tyler Rose City Comic Con, an annual paranormal convention and the recent Tyler Celtic Fest. Jones is also the man behind the popular horror podcast Paranoria, Texas.

He has designed a curriculum that's runs the gamut, covering areas such as improv work, acting, playwriting and public speaking.

"Everyone gets to be involved," Jones said. "We try to keep it fun."

In just a year, the club has grown from a handful of students to a packed class, prompting the school to move the club into a much larger room.

"I think it's been a wonderful experience for me so far," Jones said. "I've thoroughly enjoyed watching them bloom."

The students began their first class of the semester by polishing their improvisational skills. They stepped into character as wizards, geriatric murder suspects and psychiatrists.

"What I'm trying to find out is who has the most natural ability," Jones said. "I want to get them used to performing."

Finding out which students feel at home on the stage is the first step toward the club's semester long project, an original play.

The club will borrow the auditorium at Orr Elementary to perform an original melodrama, "Jack Pendleton vs. King Oil."

Jones said it is important to show students how these skills can help them in life.

"Who here has ever had a job interview that you wanted to go a certain way?" he asked the class.

Jones told the students that by presenting themselves in a positive, confident light, they had been acting without even knowing it.

Even when having some fun, Early College High School is preparing its students for success.

Twitter: @TMT_Cory

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