Film-Making Starts in Fourth Grade at Beardslee Elementary School

  • Duarte Dispatch
    March 29, 2016 Written by: May S. Ruiz
    Film-Making Starts in Fourth Grade at Beardslee Elementary School

    DUARTE >> It is 2:45 p.m. on a Monday afternoon and students are getting picked up by their parents from Duarte Unified School District’s (DUSD) Beardslee Elementary School. For a group of fourth graders, however, it is not the end of their school day; they have another 90 minutes of class time. Yet these young kids do not need any coaxing to get started all over again. That is because they are learning something different and exciting so they eagerly await the arrival of Polo and Jessica, Hollywood professionals, who will be teaching the lesson – film-making.

    “We were told that cinematography isn’t a course that can be effectively taught beginning in high school,” begins Micah Green, fourth grade teacher at Beardslee and facilitator for the program. “It has to start in elementary grades, and build through the years. It was decided to add the course as an after-school program this year because we’re still trying it out. The idea is to have professionals teach the class while I watch. Next year it will be integrated into the curriculum as part of English class. I can work with students and give them story ideas. I could be more involved in the scriptwriting process; Polo and Jessica can just come in for the film-making portion.”

    The cinematography class is the product of a partnership with the Latino Film Institute’s (LFI) Youth Cinema Project. LFI is the brainchild of actor Edward James Olmos who developed his commitment to education when he portrayed the role of Garfield High teacher Jaime Escalante. Through his foundation, he actively engages with a number of school districts in ensuring that Latino and African-American students are not forgotten in the schools.

    Olmos began this program with two academicians who created the curriculum and planned a course of study for students. While new in DUSD, the film-making course has been in place in the elementary, middle and high schools in Santa Ana, Montebello, Bassett, Lynwood, and Pasadena districts.

    Green adds, “Mr. Olmos is the face of this film-making project. I believe it was he who approached previous DUSD superintendent, Dr. Terry Nichols, about the cinematography class. Dr. Nichols liked the idea and okay-ed the project which was picked up by the current superintendent Dr. Allan Mucerino. To ensure that the program is continued, the district purchased a Canon handheld camera necessary for the course. While theyre not what would be used in a Hollywood movie, they’re more cost effective. Everyone is fully committed to go it all the way to high school.”

    For right now, Green’s group of about 23 students, from his fourth and fifth grade classes and from another teacher’s fourth grade class at Beardslee, meets after school every Monday and Wednesday.

    Even without the added benefit of learning film-making, the class itself is a boost for teaching in general. Explains Green, “Even struggling writers get motivated because they don’t think they have to write; they feel they’re telling their story, which is a different mindset – it’s purposeful writing.”

    “It’s a messy process; these kids started out with no real skills – knowing nothing about writing scripts. We began with just basic writing about any topic they want to explore. They’re young kids so they write about things that are familiar to them – like a baseball game. They learn to write visually – what the camera will see – that’s what’s important.

    Then they learn that for every scene they need a description of the environment and positioning so they add the direction. Lastly, they put in the dialogue between their characters. That was a huge part of the class and took about five months – from October through February. They now have a script and they’re in the filming process. All the movies will be made on campus so the topic has to be limited to what’s available to them, although I think we have some green screen so maybe they can add CGI later,” Green elaborates.

    The cinematography class is the product of a partnership with the Latino Film Institute’s (LFI) Youth Cinema Project.

    The three-to-five-minute film Green’s students create will be shown in the spring at a presentation with their families and members of the community as audience. According to Green even Creative Artists Agency (CAA), a major Hollywood talent agency, will have a representative watching the kids’ films.

    “It’s an opportunity to rise to the top; students can later find jobs in the movie industry. But even those who aren’t cut out for film-making will have an appreciation for story-telling,” Green concludes.

    Dr. Mucerino shares his thoughts, “I was struck recently by a CEO poll taken by IBM that identified creativity as the most important leadership quality. It made me think how lucky our children are here in Duarte because their “creativity quotient” (CQ) will be higher than their peers as a result of our efforts to promote creativity in our schools. After all, if creativity disappears, our music, art, and literature – our culture, will disappear with it. Creative children are the next generation of innovators, authors, entrepreneurs, software developers, diplomats, and hopefully, superintendents.”