GarField HS - Graduating Class of 2020 by Chris George

A conversation with Chris George by Joshua Zamudio / Edited by Jenae Lien
Video by Chris George is showcased at the end of this article. 
Josh - Tell me about the video project you did for the Seniors at Garfield High School.
Chris - My School tasked me with the job of creating a video for the Seniors, showcasing and highlighting as much of Senior life as possible. Especially with what’s going on, they’re not going to be able to graduate like previous years, all their events have been cancelled. We wanted to make sure we could give them something that was touching and have a little heart to it.
Josh - What has been your experience as an educator during all of this?
Chris - During the CoVid-19 days? (laughs) It’s been crazy. Everything has transitioned to online learning. Basically, every single educator right now is teaching via Zoom, just like were doing right now, or some form of online platform, whether that be Schoology or Google Classroom. We just have to find different ways to interact with our students. Making sure that we are still teaching them in the best way possible, interacting and connecting with them each day as much as we can. It hasn’t been too hard for me, it’s just a transition that we had to make.
Josh - What are some of the challenges you’re seeing in trying to educate your students during this time?
Chris - I would say the main thing is connecting with the students. I teach in East L.A where the background of students is predominately low income. It’s about making sure that you’re teaching students and also making sure that you’re understanding of what type of situations they are in. I don’t want to just give them a whole bunch of work and then they’re not even able to do it because A,  they don’t have internet. Or B, they have to go to work because their parents struggle. Or C, they have to take care of their nieces or nephews, or brothers and sisters. It’s about being understanding of the type of situations that they’re in. It’s funny because even though I’m not in the classroom with them, I definitely feel like I’ve connected more with them because I’m constantly messaging them and they’re messaging me. I’m constantly putting up posts and they’re commenting on the posts. Even though we are further away, I definitely feel like I’ve gotten closer to my students.
Josh - When did the schools start implementing changes, and what were these changes? Did your school system give you guidelines on how to proceed forward? Or was it up to the teachers to figure out a way?
Chris - It’s both actually. We’ve been off, how long? A month and a half now? Initially we were up in the air about what exactly was going to happen. People were still going to school and we were hearing about CoVid-19. We were all wondering what was going to happen, will we come back to work next week? I remember it being a Thursday, and then on that Friday they made the announcement that we’re not going to come back to work next week. So I thought it was going to be like a week, and we would be back the following week. That clearly didn’t happen, so during that time period, the school district started putting out memos and giving us information about how to proceed forward in online learning. That last Friday, the district knew that we were going to be off, so they started giving the students Chrome Books. Basically every student in the district now has a Chrome Book. Then, 1 to 2 weeks later, they started giving students hot-spots because a lot of students don’t have internet at home. From there, they started releasing information to us (teachers) in terms of how to move forward online. We have a platform that LAUSD calls Schoology. It’s basically like Facebook or Instagram for education. I can make posts, I can make discussions, I can have groups, I can post assignments, I can post videos, they can comment, they can like. It’s basically a platform dedicated to connecting students. That’s basically how I’ve been moving forward and teaching my kids. In terms of the district giving guidelines, they do. They have given guidelines. We’ve done professional development throughout this whole process of figuring out how we can move forward and continue teaching. But, throughout the whole process, every day is a different challenge. Even though they give us these memos and professional developments, it’s not like a one-size-fit-all.
Josh - For the graduating class this year, how many Seniors are in that class?
Chris - It’s close to 580. Something like that.
Josh- What has been their response to all of this? How are they adapting and dealing with the situation? Has their work ethic changed from being in school to being online?
Chris - It’s changed a lot. As an educator, I do what I can. What I mean in terms of them changing a lot is they’re not in class anymore. For a lot students, school is the place where they get food. It’s the place where they get love. It’s where they get comfort. For them to be locked up at home, well, not every student, but for some of them to be at home is just not a good situation for them. Some of them have been vocal, and some of their mental healths have definitely been challenged. Physical health has been challenged. They’re not really able to go outside and move and exercise like they normally would. Sports - they can’t do sports anymore. They don’t have Prom. They don’t have all the Senior activities, so, especially the Seniors, they’re definitely feeling it. In terms of work ethic, the district put out a memo telling us that this semester is not going to count. It is, but it isn’t. Basically, students can’t fail. They can’t get an F. The lowest grade that you can give them is a D. If you give them a D, you have to give them some justification as to why they got that D. They will check to see how you’ve helped them improve, and if they are still worthy of getting that D, then you can assign it to them. For me, personally, I’m not going to give any grades lower than a C. Just because I know these kids’ situations. If I was teaching at Beverly Hills then it would be a different story - they all have internet, they all have the resources necessary. I’m teaching in the inner-city, and every single kid has some shit going on.
Chris - I’m on the committee at my school for developing the virtual graduation. It sucks for them, this is a cumulation of 12 years of their life. This is where they get to say, ‘Yes, I’ve made it, I’ve got my high school diploma, I want my family to come see me. Obviously that’s just not going to be the case anymore. I’ve tried to confide in the students and tell them that this is only one part of their life. Don’t look at this like - ‘If I don’t get this graduation, if I can’t graduate on stage, then my life is not going to be the same.’ I tell my students, ‘To tell you the truth, I do not even remember my high school graduation.’
Josh - What else influenced you to make the video edit the way it was?
Chris - My principal reached out to me, basically LAUSD is tasking any school who wants to create a video, to create a video. I think they called it the ‘Turn the Tassel’ challenge. They didn’t really give big guidelines so I was like let’s take the essence of the area and the community and highlight that. Highlight students and highlight not only the community, but the struggles, the type of people that they are, the resilience and all that stuff. I didn’t have a script or anything. I started going out and shooting a bunch of B-roll stuff around the area, around East L.A. As I was shooting, I was developing my idea in my head. I would jot some stuff down in notes and be like, okay, this shot could probably work, or this VoiceOver might sound good here. I started developing the VoiceOver as I started to cut together those B-roll shots. Throughout the whole process, I was asking students via Schoology to send me videos that they had. Send me videos of stuff they do throughout the day when you would normally be in school. If you’re just chilling eating lunch, or if you guys did some form of Senior activity, send me that. So, I have the whole school sending me just videos. I was also in touch with the yearbook teacher, she was sending me all the students’ graduation forms. Once I got that and started looking at the film and cutting it together, I was able to lock in my VoiceOver. I was like, this sounds really cool, but it would sound even better if I had a VoiceOver artist do it in Spanish. I knew, once I wrote it, that this can’t be in English. I have to do it Spanish. I actually reached out to one of my students who graduated maybe 5 or 6 years ago, and he works in media. I had hit up a couple students, asking if they knew anybody who just happens to have a nice voice. And the student hit me back and sent me a video of the guy and I was like - I need him. I need that guy. He was cool about it, so I sent him over the VoiceOver. We had it translated. I had it translated by my fiancé, and then a Spanish teacher I’m cool with at Garfield looked at it. We had different versions of the translation and we sent it over to him and he knocked that out in 2.5 hours. Literally the same day I sent it to him, he sent it back.
Josh - How have your students responded to the video?
Chris - They like it, I’m not exactly sure where it’s gone - I don’t follow my students or anything. The one’s who have commented on Schoology, they love it. A lot of students said that they cried. I got text messages from teachers who said that the video hit them hard.
Josh - What’s next? What do you think are the next steps for education in schools, and what’s next for your students? How do you think they’re planning to move forward?
Chris - In terms of education, we’re still waiting on what the state decides. We’ve been hearing that schools may reopen in August, but we’re not sure if LAUSD is actually going to put students in the classrooms. It’s going to come down to what is the safest, and what is logistically the best option for the students, the teachers, the administrators, everybody who’s involved with being on a school site. It’s going to be a tricky situation on how to keep everybody safe moving forward, but for the next month until school is out, it’s all going to be online still. The classes are modified. I teach a video production course. Obviously I can’t be hands on with students. It’s not tangible, they can’t touch the cameras, they can’t touch the tripods, they can’t touch the lights. What I’ve been trying to do is a good amount of theory-based teaching. And also have them use what they learned before quarantine hit, like create videos just using their phone and mobile editing apps. They’ve done some really good stuff. I was actually grading all day yesterday, it’s called the Quarantine Video Project, and it’s them documenting what they do daily throughout quarantine into a minute to 2-minute video. That’s my next steps in moving forward, is to stay creative, trying to stay as creative as possible with them. But again, still making sure that I’m aware of what’s going on in their life as well.
Josh - Is there anything else you want to say as a message to the school or to the public about the educational system or video?
Chris - Directly to students, I would say look, education is really important. A lot of the times, educators get a bad rep. I know a lot of people I’ve heard from the grapevine say that we aren’t doing anything during this time, we’re just at home sipping coffee. That’s not true. I’m an educator, my fiancé is an educator too. She’s actually on a Zoom call right now. We’re both here for the students. We’re trying our best to not only to continue to educate, but to continue to be here for the students and comfort them. What I say to those kids is, ‘Stay strong. This is only one moment in your life. And it’s now a moment that is going to mold you and shape you into being a better person.’
For more from Chris George, Follow on Instagram



Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published