Lead Story West Edition

L.A. Promise Charter reaches into imagination of students

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The imagination of a child is a powerful thing. From imaginary friends to playing house, children are constantly creating images in their heads and bringing them to life.

If children were given the opportunity to craft a television series or write and publish a novel, the possibilities of creativity would be endless.

Luckily, the L.A. Promise Charter High School No. 1 was founded to encourage those childhood fantasies.

It offers a film and television program to 60 eager students, who are taught by professionally trained individuals who work in the entertainment industry. In the daytime, the teachers work for companies such as Sony or Paramount and other studios in Hollywood.

The target number for enrollment is 100 and 40 seats are still available. Principal Qiana O’Leary predicts this number will increase once word of mouth disseminates.

“Normally people are early adapters; it’s new so they let it go by a year and they want in,” O’Leary said.

When L.A. Promise was being built, O’Leary and her team visited multiple visual and performing arts school to grasp different ideas and remixed them into one concept.

“So we said, ‘Hey, students of the 21st century are really in tune with telecommunication so anything from social media to YouTube to anything that deals with some type of mass communication form through technology; what if we use that as a platform to engage with Common Core and even if they want to be a doctor or a lawyer they’re still learning the material through a platform that is interesting to them,” O’Leary said.

Each student begins their day being taught their common core classes — math, science, English and history — also called “project-based learning interdisciplinary project based units” until after lunch, when each student goes to the film academy, where they focus on all the fundamental elements of film and television.

Students are rotated in groups of 20 in classes such as screenwriting, operating a camera, editing, and post production. There are a total of four classes, but students attend just one class per day.

Not only are students learning the fundamentals of film and television, but they are simultaneously earning college credits towards a digital media associate of arts degree through their partnership with Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

During the morning classes, students are given one question and every teacher will answer that question according to their discipline. Whatever that question may be, they have to answer it as it relates to chemistry, algebra, English or history.

Students will then take the given theme from their collective classes and go to the academy and produce some type of work that relates to their assigned concept. They are then grouped off into pods of six.

“One is a director, one is a script writer, one is an editor, one is the producer, and one is a camera person who all work together to produce this documentary or silent film or whatever their task is for six weeks based on their concept,” O’Leary said.

Last week, students began unit two which focuses on social change. So for the next six weeks each student will have created a project based on socially conscious change.

In each of their core classes, students will concentrate on how each of these subjects impact social change. An example for physical education class would be how do athletes use their platform to impact social change.

“So in doing that they are going to create their own games or their own P.E. workout program and then they’re going to take it to the community by going to a middle school or an elementary school to teach the kids the game they created and they’ll also create those kids a platform to talk about something that’s really important to them,” O’Leary said. At the end of four weeks, students will then take the last two weeks to work in their pods after learning each element and then create a project as it relates to social change.

Marquette Williams, who serves as chair of the cinema program, has a goal for each student, and that is to gain some form of employment after high school or during high school. Long term, he predicts the students will graduate with at least 20 projects.

“We’re putting them in a position to really be taken seriously as artists do if they want to go to a school like USC or UCLA or [American Film Institute],” Williams said.

Not every student at LA Promise wants to become a filmmaker. Those are the type of students Williams says the school seeks.

Ninth grader Cienna Michaels, who aspires to be a forensic scientist, feels that the program is helpful even though film isn’t the exact career path she wants to take.

“I like that we get to use cameras and we’re going to be interns next year,” she said.

Chanel Williams, who is also in the ninth grade, feels that the academy gives students freedom, but also has a guideline for students. She says she is still learning and the program is giving her early opportunities to grow.

“I want to be a landscape photographer so I’m really interested in just like sitting and watching the landscape so I would tell different stories about that.”

For more information visit: http://www.lapromisefund.org/charter-high-school/.