By Sheri Baer of Menlo Park, Menlo-Atherton parent and fashion show volunteer
For Menlo-Atherton High School students, Pride Hall is a stretch of maroon flooring lined with trophy cases, a jostling passageway to be maneuvered in under five minutes. When the passing bell rings, it's a packed, shoulder-bumping world away from the sleek fashion runways of Milan, Paris and London. Unless Charleston Pierce is back in town.
Over the course of several weeknights, this San Francisco-based coach, actor and former model converts the high school's central thoroughfare into a training ground for Model 101 workshops. His job: to make nearly 200 diverse high school seniors runway-ready for the school's upcoming annual fashion show.
"I'm able to relate to a lot of the kids because my first fashion show was in high school, and it was definitely an experience I will never forget," Mr. Pierce said during a recent session. "I got a boost of confidence that I had never had before."
When the "M-AKING FASHION H15TORY"-themed show takes center stage Saturday, March 21, at Menlo-Atherton's Performing Arts Center, it will be Mr. Pierce's fourth go-round as the event's producer, model coach and choreographer.
With credits including 16 seasons of Macy's Passport modeling, national billboards, movies, print ads and more than 30 commercials, he acknowledges a school's annual PTA fundraiser isn't an obvious career step. However, he has close ties to M-A and embraced the opportunity to work with students.
"I come back because the job isn't really a job, it's part of my mission to inspire. I come to inspire and I get inspired by them," he said.
Flanked by his longtime colleague, Hannah Rose Johnson, he quickly stokes the energy in the dimly lit hallway. With an agenda that includes model drills, walking and posing, the challenge is keeping dozens of students be they lacrosse players, ceramic artists, extroverts or introverts pumped up and engaged.
"What we do is really reassure them that everyone is a winner. We work on self confidence skills that make sense on the runway," he said. "That means that you're showing up on that stage with good posture, you're showing up with that winner smile, you're showing up being part of the team."
Senior Natalie Montoya admitted she was hesitant when she came out for the first workshop. "I wasn't really sure what to expect," she said. "I figured I'd be kind of shy and I wouldn't really want to do anything. But he just loves it so much that he gets everyone else into it."
At intermittent points throughout the workshop, blasts of music fill the hallway. As classmates whoop and cheer, clusters of students strut forward, swiveling and posing, taking turns walking Pride Hall's simulated catwalk.
"Mostly, it's the posture, and when you're holding your pose, not to rush through it and definitely take your time with it," said senior Danny LaPorte. Adds classmate Henry Hilton: "Charleston is a character. He's an energetic guy and he just brings the fun to the learning."
With performances set for 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 21, M-A's seniors will have ample opportunity to showcase their skills. "You experience a great show, you experience how it feels for every artist in the world to do something great and have people applaud you," Mr. Pierce said. "When I see them come together as a family, as a team, as a unit, my job is done."
Click here to buy tickets online. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.