Excellence in Action Spotlighting: Susan Miller Dorsey High School, Dorsey Film Program

This year’s Excellence in Action award winners, spanning eight Career Clusters® from seven states, represent some of the best Career Technical Education (CTE) programs in the country. Learners take part in rigorous sequences of courses beginning with foundational skills to subject-matter mastery; real-world, hands-on experiences in the classroom led by dedicated educators; and meaningful work-based experiences facilitated by industry partners. One of the award-winners is the Dorsey Film Program of study in Los Angeles, California in the Arts, A/V Technology & Communications Career Cluster®. 

The Dorsey Film Program was launched in 2015 to provide learners with the rigorous and integrated academic and technical coursework required for a career in the media and entertainment industry. In this three-year program of study, courses include investigative video production, audio/visual fundamentals, storytelling, web series/television scriptwriting and journalism.  Learners can also earn early college credit for both core academic courses and video production courses through an articulation agreement with West Los Angeles College.

An exciting aspect of the program is learners have to be able to “teach-back” what they are learning through video tutorials. This practice helps them grasp concepts and find out the areas they may need to improve upon. Throughout the program, learners are creating content that will contribute to their portfolio including producing their own web series, showcasing their incredible skills. Not only that, in 2016 and 2017, Dorsey student films were selected to screen at the Black Hollywood Education Resource Center (BHERC) Youth Film Festival.

Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/nOTMG4KoIQo

A Program that Serves Each and Every Learner

“Our program does really well working with students who have learning disabilities, are autistic, or learners who aren’t engaged on campus and have been written off. I think by the nature of the arts we are able to reach them in a way that the other classes aren’t.” — Robyn Charles, Program Director, Dorsey High School Digital Film & Theatre Arts

Susan Miller Dorsey High School is a comprehensive high school campus serving an ethnically diverse population of 53 percent African-American and 45 percent of Hispanic learners. The school also serves special populations including 78 percent low-income learners, three percent homeless, and four percent of foster youth. The film program wants to ensure when youth age-out of the foster system they are equipped to perform a wide variety of tasks needed to compete for technical positions in the industry that are most likely to provide living wages.

When asked, What are you most proud of that this program accomplishes? Robyn Charles responded, “The change in the student. To literally watch the process of a student becoming more vocal, empowered, active, engaged, and positive as they find their voice is what I’m most proud of.” 

Starting Early 

In partnership with the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), middle school learners can begin gaining hands-on video production experience by participating in the Dorsey Summer Film Academy. This three-week summer program teaches youths how to produce their own short films while getting them acclimated to the high school campus. This bridge program is meant to ensure that the community has access to art enrichment programs early in their education, and provide a pathway all the way from middle school to postsecondary education. 

Learning Real-World Skills Opens Doors

To ensure that the program of study is meeting industry demand, a new pre-apprenticeship program called the Dorsey Media Industry Technician program has launched. Learners gain the training needed to qualify for high-demand jobs in the areas of grip, set design, lighting and construction to give learners the ability to work behind the scenes on Hollywood production sites. 

The program includes a two-year curriculum starting with grip and rigging and ending with lighting and construction. An articulation agreement with West Los Angeles College was established as well as a partnership with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, removing the barrier of access to union membership for learners. Upon completion of the program, learners will be able to build and take down sets, read blueprints, operate stage lighting and live sound systems/acoustics and more. Learners will gain the skills needed for an industry that has a thriving creative economy with nearly one million jobs in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Alum on the Road to College and Career Success 

Christian Dixon, an alum of the program, is now enrolled at the University of Chicago pursuing an Entertainment Law degree. Charles stayed in contact with Dixon after graduation and helped him secure a three-year summer internship with William Morris Endeavor, a global entertainment agency, guaranteeing him a position upon college graduation!

At first I didn’t know what kind of lawyer I wanted to be… but now I know I want to stay in the entertainment field. I want to stay working with film. – Christian Dixon

Learn more about the Dorsey Film Program, at Susan Miller Dorsey High School and our 2019 award winners.

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