The Los Angeles Unified School District was awarded a $2.6-million federal grant Monday that will allow it to double the number of academies offering high-tech skills to students preparing to join Southern California's booming entertainment and commercial industries.
Through an alliance with Hollywood powerhouses such as DreamWorks SKG, Universal Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment, the school district is expanding its New Media academies--where students learn to produce CD-ROMS, computer-animated videos, World Wide Web Internet sites and a host of other high-tech creations.
The Los Angeles school district now operates five academies on existing high school campuses. With the grant money, paid over five years, it plans to open five more.
School officials and entertainment executives said the grant is good news for students and for employers who are increasingly desperate to fill skilled positions with local workers.
"These students possess skills that are worth money," said Barbara Gordon, coordinator of the New Media academy at Hollywood High School, which began last year. "Employers want workers who can think, who can work together as a team."
The Los Angeles district is one of four California school systems awarded a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant by the U.S. Department of Education. School districts in Fresno and San Diego counties were among 19 districts selected nationwide from 675 applicants.
"These grants will make available to our students first-class learning resources across the country and around the world," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in a prepared statement.
The Los Angeles school system will receive $734,572 for the first year. The funds will pay to open the new academies, train teachers and buy equipment.
Teachers at Hollywood High School's academy, among the first to open, say the curriculum will be a mix of high-tech skills and traditional academics.
For example, students in English, social studies and computer graphics classes are now completing videos about the 1920s. One group focused on the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, conducting research from encyclopedias and magazines, then writing scripts, scanning photographs into a computer and adding music for a three-minute video.
"This program helps make education more relevant to the students' lives beyond high school," said Gordon, the program coordinator.
At Verdugo Hills High School in Tujunga, which opened its academy three weeks ago, some students are already producing computer-animated videos and short documentaries. Others are using computers to design film sets.
"This is very, very new," said Assistant Principal Cheryl Dellepiane. "This is the first program that involves technology and advanced academic work that could prepare students for jobs well above entry level, minimum-wage work."
The Los Angeles school district launched the first three academies--including one at Palisades Charter High School and the Abram Friedman Occupational Center in downtown--with $100,000, funding and expertise from several entertainment firms.
DreamWorks SKG gave money and provided its own media experts to train teachers.
The company is one of at least 50 entertainment businesses assisting the program by offering internships, donating equipment and evaluating student work. Industry executives say they have their own motive: They want to train students to fill jobs in the quickly expanding industry.
"Our role is enlightened self-interest--creating our own work force--and recognizing the need to engage students and teachers alike," said Kathleen Milnes, incoming senior vice president of the Los Angeles-based Entertainment Industry Development Corp. "I'm ecstatic. We're already doing the work. We just needed money to make it better."
The joint entertainment and school district effort is coordinated by Workforce L.A., a nonprofit organization that links schools and businesses to develop workplace-transition programs.