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The Ideal School? Kids' Summit Will Seek Answers

Contest gives children a voice, and the winners will go to Paris.


We hear a lot about what's wrong with education today, but how to make it better is something we don't often ask those most intimately concerned--kids themselves. Now's their chance to tell us.

This year's International Children's Summit, to be presented by Disney magazines, the Just Think Foundation and UNESCO on June 9 to 13 at Disneyland Paris, is giving young people between the ages of 7 and 14 the opportunity to create a visual or written image of their ideal school as part of a nationwide "U.S. Children's Summit Contest."

Winners will attend the summit, a brainstorming gathering of more than 600 children from 40 countries.

"Very infrequently do we ask what an ideal school would be like, and when we do, we ask parents and teachers and businesses," said Elana Rosen, co-founder of the Just Think Foundation, a program that encourages children to be savvy about popular media and promotes "literacy skills for the 21st century." "When have we asked young people what they think would be best?"

The purpose of the contest is twofold, Rosen said. "We are asking kids for a vision of the ideal school, while making them think deeply about what is important about teaching and learning. And we're encouraging students to think of using any type of media they can imagine."

She said that last year, students imagined painting their message on the moon so that when it was full, every child in the world could see it. They also imagined high-tech, multilingual Web sites that went into their homes with closed-caption and Braille accompaniments.

The summit, established in 1994, is an international forum at which children can talk about global issues affecting their future. This year's theme, "Society," asks children in the United States to come up with creative ways to make their own education better; children in other countries will consider issues of community, family and traditions.

At the summit, Rosen said, the U.S. winners "will meet and come up with a collaborative idea to present to UNESCO and, additionally, each group will develop a unit that could be used in classrooms in their schools."

Once the winners are selected by education and new media experts--based on the creativity, originality and educational value of their entries--they will work with a Disney film crew and the foundation to create a video based on their vision.

Contest rules request that children work in teams of two or three to come up with their ideas. Each entry, either a visual image or a written description of the team's ideal school, should be presented on a single sheet of 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper or a single computer screen of text and/or pictures. The deadline for a postmark or online posting date is April 21. The four winning teams will be notified in mid-May.

* Parents, kids and teachers can request complete contest rules and entry information by calling (800) 728-0430 or by visiting the contest Web site at


Write Now: Hollywood's Fountain Theatre is helping young people find their voices and expand their horizons in "Dream Lab, Young Playwrights L.A.," a writing group for L.A.-area teenagers presented in association with the noted Playwrights Project, a San Diego-based nonprofit organization that provides statewide programs for young writers.

The results of the fifth annual Dream Lab at the Fountain Theatre will be presented on Tuesday and Wednesday as adult professional actors and directors present staged readings of works by budding playwrights ages 13 to 18.

"The plays are very diverse," said Laurel Ollstein, a Los Angeles playwright and director who is leading the lab. "With the guys, father-son issues are apparent, and there are many mothers in the young women's pieces. Some are fantasies, some are comedies and some are very heavy, dealing with subjects like losing a friend to a drug overdose."

Ollstein, whose own works include the well-received comedy "Pot Roast" at Actors Gang Theatre in 1995 and a solo play about writer Dorothy Parker, said that "the most important thing" she stresses to the teen writers is "to remember it's theater, not soap opera or TV. I want them to remember that anything can happen on stage, that anything is possible."

Ollstein finds her own inspiration in her work with the young people. "You can see them seeing the possibilities for themselves. I tell them, 'Just write,' " she added, "and then I remember to say that to myself when I get home."

The plays, which will also tour area schools, will be presented as separate bills: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., "Finishing Darwin" by Margareth Berciano, 16, of West Covina; "Battlegrounds" by Jonathan Knell, 16, of Woodland Hills; an untitled work by Iris Beltran, 15, of La Puente; and "Chocolate Chip Cookies and Dirty Laundry" by Chan Phung, 15, of West Covina.

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.: "Grandma" by Nicole Kelley, 17, of Los Angeles; "The Suicidal Troubadour" by Zachary Singer, 14, of North Hollywood, "Love, Deceit and Romance" by Daisy Chilin, 13, of Temple City; and "Smiling Faces" by Laura Knight, 16, of North Hills.

* The Fountain Theatre is at 5060 Fountain Ave. Admission is free. For reservations and for student group or school tour inquiries, call (818) 242-3984.


Film Fun: Younger children can get creative at Barnsdall Art Park's "Children's Film Series," a free program presented by L.A.'s Cultural Affairs Department. The series includes a screening of two 30-minute animated films and a related art workshop each Saturday, beginning this weekend and ending April 5, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Reservations and information: (213) 485-4581.

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