“Albert has Asperger’s Syndrome and eye contact and touching are off limits,” said Erin Yeschin, who had been the head mentor for the Young Storytellers Movie Makers program at Culver City Middle School (CCMS) when Albert was a participant. But one day, after filming his movie, “Albert not only looked me in the eye to say thank you,” Erin recounted, “he hugged both me and his mentor of his own volition to show his appreciation. THIS. DOESN’T. HAPPEN. But […] it did!”
Like all of the CCMS students in the program, Albert used an iPad to create a film from scratch— writing a script, directing actors, everything. The process helped him gain confidence in himself and around his peers. Erin said, “He makes more eye contact now and isn’t as afraid of physical contact.” His mother said he felt like he could be himself at Movie Makers. For a child with any type of disability or challenge, that feeling is invaluable.
Movie Makers is one of the many arts programs brought to our Culver City Unified School District (CCUSD) schools by the Front & Center Theatre Collaborative (F&C). The Collaborative was born in the wake of the last economic downturn. With California schools, arts organizations and corporations struggling financially, Janice Pober, Senior Vice President Corporate Social Responsibility at Sony Pictures Entertainment, conceived of this partnership as a way to make the most of every available dollar and to ensure curriculum reinforcing theatre experiences for every CCUSD K thru 12 student.
F&C arts organizations (Young Storytellers, Center Theatre Group, The Actor’s Gang, 24th Street Theatre, Story Pirates, and We Tell Stories) create and teach the programs. Financial partners like Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Fineshriber Family Foundation and the Carol and James Collins Foundation, provide major funding. While CCEF raises money, coordinates and administers the programs. As F&C Coordinator Heather Moses explains, “CCEF is Front & Center’s backbone organization.”
Each year students from Culver City High School’s Academy of Visual and Performing Arts (AVPA) Film Program are chosen to serve as mentors to the CCMS students in Movie Makers. Morgan McGlothan was chosen as a mentor when she was at Culver High. She says the Young Storytellers approach to mentoring was “encouraging students to solve a problem rather than giving them an answer or solution.”
Morgan remembers how proud the CCMS students were the day their films were screened on the Sony lot, “I remember the kids leaving the program so elated with what they had accomplished. It was incredibly rewarding.”
Today, Morgan is a senior at the California Institute of the Arts and a paid Teaching Artist for the Young Storytellers Movie Makers program at CCMS— the same school where she had once served as a mentor.
“After having such great art educators in high school,” she says, “and witnessing great educators at Young Storytellers, arts education is something I’ve become extremely passionate about.”
CCEF is passionate about arts education, too. In order to continue Movie Makers and all of the other F&C programs in our schools, CCEF has to raise the money to pay for them every single year.
Visit CCEF4schools.org and donate so that arts programming can continue to flourish in our schools.