Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Pasadena’

On Tuesday May 8th, 50 directors and their teams spread out among 28 public schools in Pasadena, California to document “Go Public: A Day in the Life of PUSD.”  The plan was to follow a wide-ranging group of individuals who participate in the School District, be it Teachers, students, principals, administrators, school workers, volunteers and any others that make a public school district function. An introduction to all of those that think they know, but haven’t actually stepped into a public school for a long time. Each Director is assigned to make a short film of their subject which will then be presented on the website, afterwards all the footage will be collected by Producers Dawn and James O’Keefe of Blue Field Productions to create a feature documentary that will (according to their Mission Statement), be “a window into the world of one urban school district, the many dedicated people, the myriad of opportunities available and the complexity of effectively serving the needs of all students.”

When I was introduced to the project I knew immediately I needed to get involved. My two daughters have gone through the Pasadena Public School System from kindergarten to high school graduation and now are successfully getting their degrees at Occidental College, (in fact, my eldest just graduated “Cum Laude” with plans to teach in public schools).  Both my parents were public high school teachers. I believe in public education, especially in Pasadena.

However, after co-producing the 13-part series, “Senior Year” in 2000-2002 for PBS and just recently completing “Senior Year: Ten Years Later,” I wanted to follow a different story then students and teachers, which had been the center of our series. I had recently been amused by a statement from then Republican Candidate Newt Gingrich, “most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.” Well, I wanted to explore that idea, on a regular school day in Pasadena could a kid do a janitor’s job.

My team (of 2) and I met the custodian Felix Lopez at Washington Middle School at 5:30 am on May 8th, the day of filming. He unlocked the chains and opened the gates to the parking lot, just like he does every morning and just like each day at the school, he never stopped working once the gates were open. “I like to see this place clean,” he told me later in the day, “the environment clean really helps.  When the parents say what a beautiful school, it makes me feel good.” Lopez is a Mexican immigrant, one of ten brothers and a sister, he grew up poor and attended school only up to 4th grade. “English language was so difficult for me, but I learned by listening, especially PBS. The proper English from England, so many good shows.” He still donates to PBS every year. I liked that.

Vice Principal Eric Gothold said, “Feliz Lopez goes out of his way to provide a clean and safe environment for our kids, but he also takes every opportunity to teach them as well, life lessons, skills, conversation and compassion.” He’s right, everywhere Mr. Lopez went around the school (picking up trash, sweeping the floors, washing down the lunch tables) students and teachers greeted him and he knew each of their names. One eighth-grader we interviewed said, “Felix, he’s an awesome dude. I came here every morning, he helped me with Spanish a little bit. He keeps you out of trouble, he influences me.” His friend added, “Nobody wants to be bad in front of him, it disappoints him. Some kids are disrespectful to their teachers, but they’re never disrespectful to Felix. He’s a good person.”

We didn’t go to Felix’s house out of respect for his wife. Her Mother was very sick and she was emotional and concerned about the possibilities of losing her. That wasn’t the documentary I was making. However, we did follow Mr. Lopez as he picked up his daughter at John Muir High School in Pasadena. She is a Sophomore and is a terrific writer for the school newspaper. Her plans are to go to college to study Architecture. He also has two grown sons in their twenties who no longer live at home. It isn’t hard to see the love he has for his family, especially his daughter. “If we want to learn, we’re going to learn. If we don’t want to learn, we won’t. I want someone to be better then me, anyone, I’m so proud when someone does well, doesn’t matter rich or poor, but you have to want it. I’m keeping this place nice and clean for all of you.”

To Felix Lopez, he helps children learn by giving them a clean, beautiful place to be educated. He cares about his job and the school and it shows. The hallways sparkle. We joyfully filmed reflections of students on the floors of the halls because of how clearly we could see them. It was a cameraman’s dream. Recent budget cuts have forced the school system to cut back on janitors, but it hasn’t stopped Felix. He now does the job of two custodians. At the end of the day, we were exhausted just following him around the large campus. But as we watched and interviewed the Principal Marion Stewart, the Librarian Christina Diaz, the Vice Principal, the security staff and many of the teachers, we were struck by how hard all of them worked. Nobody had time to kill. My team was usually the only ones in the Teacher’s Lounge. They all have a job to do and that is to educate the next generation. The same job that all those that work in public education, teaching 90% of the children in this country.  Everyone who thinks they know about public education by presenting a few bad apples, needs to spend a day at their public school before judgement. It certainly realigned my opinion. Go Public.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

  On Wednesday, November 30, 2011 the Santa Ana winds blew through Pasadena and quickly made downtown look like Armageddon.  Don’t believe me, take a look at these photos.  We lost electricity at Unconventional Media, but it didn’t matter, I wasn’t working. The electricity was out at the home of my sister, Lindsay Mofford and her husband, Tucker. I’ve written on this blog about Tucker Stilley before, his battle with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and without use of any of his muscles, outside of his neck and eyebrows, his ability to create artwork and interactive media with just a reflective bindi-dot on his forehead that controls a complex system of computer technology.

Here’s a video link, “How We Do It” that explains the method behind, “The Permanent Record of NewJack_Rasputin.” His website, The Permanent Record, is this pirate avatar’s portal to his art, songs, ideas and videos. Check out the recent new work in reaction to the Occupy movements and new music with visuals, Brite Gray.  But don’t stop there, explore the website for other work or search out, TuckerStilley.com. There is also an APP from Appucan of his Deconstructed Faerie series.  In 2010, he was one of six honored with the Massachusetts College of Art’s Alumni Awards for Distinguished Achievement. (His video speech, since he was unable to attend.)

Back to the power that went off that evening and did not return for 63 hours, a stretch that could have proven deadly to Tucker. He now breathes 24 hours a day with the assistance of a ventilator.  When the electricity went off, everyone had to kick into emergency mode and that’s what amazed me. Not only how quickly the family and caretakers reacted, but how the community of fans and friends stepped in to assist. There was a news piece about the situation in the Pasadena Star News.

Now, there have been other postings about the community of support and friendship for Tucker, including an episode on the radio program, Humankind and a blog on Indiewire a couple years back. There is even a website entitled, All Hands on Board, that links supporters and friends to updates on the artist and new work and most importantly, to each other. Even a Facebook site.

But as medical needs grow, people are now not only giving money as a tax deduction, but also donating their own art to be sold in a community marketplace with all finances raised supporting Tucker. I’m amazed at not only Tucker’s art work that is available for purchase but all the other great things.  This Community Page continues to grow with so many possibilities, it’s one stop shopping for the holidays. You must see it. I’ve got my film Travelin Trains up there. My mom has her new book, “The Devil Made Me Do It.” The incredible musicians, Alloy Orchestra, have a few of their original movie soundtracks available including, “Man with a Movie Camera.” Beautiful prints. Bardo scarves. Even stays in Florence, Italy and Cambridge, Mass. More gets added every day.

Every step of this journey has been a new discovery and when the lights go out, new discoveries are made.  Tucker normally communicates using a custom-built computer system he started designing seven years ago when he was first diagnosed with ALS. These days it is very difficult for him to communicate without the computer. When the electricity went off and running only on a small generator to power the medical equipment, the computer had to go. Tucker was forced to retreat to his only refuge – his mind.  In the program notes for his art show a couple of years ago at Monte Vista (Read the review), he wrote, “I feel it is logical, my own nervous system failing, that I would spontaneously generate an alter-ego, tear a hole-in-space and try to escape.  My situation warrants immediate and drastically uncompromising self-metamorphosis. An exquisite new aesthetic unfolds when you are standing on the deck of a burning ship. Being paralyzed amplifies the uneasy link between intent and action and brings into question the true meaning of this place and time that we occupy…and of what our ultimate audience might prove to be.”

At times he describes himself as a “brain in a jar,” but it is a brilliant brain. We thank you all, those supporters that are consistently involved in Tucker’s life, but as his neck and shoulder muscles begin to give, we are reaching out to new medical procedures like the Eyewriter  and more medical staff to keep the “brain” creating. We need to go beyond the community that knows Tucker and introduce him to those who have yet to meet him. I believe the Community Marketplace is a good starting point. Please share, buy and donate.

Read Full Post »