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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Dropouts: When Kids Are Challenged and Encouraged, Great Things Happen

At the beginning of this school year, two students were put into my Digital Production class that really didn't belong there. One of them had never taken a class from me, while the other had, but had shown little interest in the assignments and mostly kept to himself. These kids were goths: They dressed all in black and hung out with others who did the same. They liked heavy metal music that had decidedly dark overtones.

When we started class, I gave an assignment to make a TV commercial, and everyone in the class dove in. When I looked at the results, I realized these two kids had produced something superior to everyone else's. They clearly needed a challenge. I also knew that they were considering dropping out of school.

They had taken a screenwriting course the previous year. I had not seen any of their scripts, but I knew that they must have had some, so I took a chance on them.

I had recently weaseled my boss into buying two laptops not designated for anything in particular, so I approached these two kids with a proposition: I gave them a computer, a video camera, a DVD burner, and all the tape and DVDs they could handle, and told them to make me a movie. They wanted more direction, but I replied that if that I told them what to do it would be my movie, not theirs. I told them I would help them with whatever they needed -- equipment or guidance, or to run interference -- but I wanted a movie at the end of the semester.

From that point on, I couldn't get rid of them. They came early; they stayed late. When they neglected their other classes to work on the film, I told them I would get in trouble if they didn't keep up with their schoolwork. They wrote a new script, recruited actors, and shot and edited what turned out to be a two-and-a-half-hour movie about Bigfoot going to high school.

Late in the semester, I heard from the school's work-experience coordinator that there was one internship at an editing company. I sent both of these kids, and the one job turned into two jobs -- the folks at the company said those two knew things about editing the people at the company didn't.

These two kids, Fredy and Catelyn, graduated this year, and they intend to go to film school. When I asked them what turned them around, they said that when they began working on their movie, I looked at the first rough cuts and said I was proud of them. They said nobody had ever said that to them before.

I am proud of these "dropouts"!

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