Millennial Mavens

An innovative LAUSD program is inspiring students to use the media
to make the world a better place

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  • Written by
    Karen Jordan

When it comes to bright spots in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), it would be hard to ignore Grover Cleveland High School’s Media Academy. The progressive program is aimed at teaching students how to use the media—from producing short films to initiating Kickstarter campaigns—to inspire social change.

The diverse student body includes Grover Cleveland High School junior Jaspreet Kaur, who was born in India. “I am one of the rare high school kids that figured that being in high school is not about running from class to class,” Jaspreet says. “I wanted to accomplish something more and make my time meaningful.” She believes the academy is helping prepare her for the real world. 

The Reseda school started the academy more than 15 years ago when it, along with a handful of other LAUSD schools, received a $6 million dollar grant. Teacher Jay Gonzalez, who helped get the Media Academy up and running, says the program succeeds in part because of its hands-on approach to educating students. “They’re being asked to step up and take an idea from concept to reality almost on their own,” he says. 

“Our program trains students with skills to create films and other media. More importantly, our classes teach students life skills that will support them in whatever career path they use,” adds teacher James Gleason.

Two students organized Kickstarter campaigns, both of which were funded. The academy has also participated in Indiegogo campaigns, including “Making Waves” and “The Young Warriors.” 

Proceeds from both movie campaigns were used to help put on the academy’s annual International Youth Media Summit, a unique exchange that offers students the opportunity to work with peers from around the world on endeavors like film projects. This past year students from more than 20 countries, including Israel and Palestine, met at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, California. 

“I know they were feeling guilty and torn because their families were being bombed,” teacher Evelyn Seubert says, but eventually the students realized collaborating was more important than any discontent at home. “At that point it’s like: Forget politics, we’ve got a movie to make. There is nothing quite as powerful as letting them live and work and eat and play together. People don’t know what teenagers can achieve. You just have to believe in them, and they can do incredible things.”