Despite so much sobering news surrounding public education lately, what’s going on at Jackson Elementary here at home is nothing short of inspiring.
The school’s fifth-graders are now able to choose Video Production as a yearlong elective. Just the fact they get to choose an elective in elementary school is pretty cool, but at a time when the arts are the first school programs to be slashed around the state and country, Jackson continues to expand on its visual and performing arts emphasis.
Principal Michele Miller, a longtime proponent of the arts, continues to practice what she preaches: Exposing students to drama, music, visual art, dance and now video production actually strengthens academics.
Video production started with one simple conversation between Miller and former parent Tom Calise, which eventually brought the class to reality last fall. First they had to raise the funds for the video equipment, and with the help of what Miller calls Jackson’s “always supportive PTO” they raised $17,000. The Rescue Union school board matched those funds.
As a volunteer, Calise, owner of City Boy Productions, brings his broad knowledge of film and video production to excited kids each week. Miller is the class’s credentialed advisor, but said she’s learned as much about video production as the kids have.
On the day I visited, a dozen students welcomed me to their classroom, bubbling with enthusiasm, anxious to showcase a short film on bullying they’d made. Some were editing at the computers. Others were writing. Most clamored around me, bright-eyed, eager to share. What I noticed, though, was that every single student in that classroom was fully engaged in his or her learning.
Through the hands-on experience of doing everything making a movie entails — working with cameras, writing the scripts, acting, directing and digitally editing — these students were learning skills they’ll take into the 21st century job market.
Miller said the kids are also learning critical thinking skills, public speaking skills and so much more. She talked about the shy kids who have blossomed before her eyes. And as their successful first year draws to a close, this year’s inaugural group of students wants to come back and mentor next year’s class.
Throughout the year, students who chose to take this elective were immersed in every facet of it. They first learned everything about the cameras, like how to properly clean, move and then operate them. Next, they learned about different camera angles and shots. For this, Mr. Calise showed classic films like Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Many of the students said learning what goes on behind the scenes, like why music is so important, has been one of their favorite parts.
“Mr. Calise showed us scary scenes without the music. We learned that with sound it’s a lot scarier,” said student John Reimer.
I remember taking courses as interesting as this only in college, and I told the kids this.
By the last trimester students put their knowledge to practice — creating their own short films, from start to finish, in small groups.
This was no humdrum, stuffy classroom where students read stale texts and learned to fill in bubbles correctly for the next standardized test. No, these kids are learning many skills by doing, and are being taught by instructors who are knowledgeable and passionate about the subjects they teach.
Julie Samrick is an El Dorado Hills resident and the mother of four children. She is also the founder of Kid Focused, a site devoted to current children’s issues.