I haven’t talked a lot about my (now not so) new job (ok, so Becky and I haven’t talked much at all here lately, but in our defense, we’ve been doing double duty going over the copy editing on Teaching Harry) but my work is, well, different. I work for a nonprofit, but spend my days in a large, urban, public South LA high school where I work to support and drive the efforts of the nonprofit, the faculty, and the administration to help create a successful atmosphere and learning space for our students. It’s a tall order, especially given the current budget crisis that has hit our school pretty hard. Plus there’s the usual testing pressures and everything else that comes with the urban school package. In the midst of all this however, our nonprofit does manage to open a few doors, and one of these was for Jamie Oliver and his production crew who filmed the current season of Food Revolution at our school this past January and February. Amidst the drama of the district’s refusal to let Jamie into the district officially (if you’re interested, here’s an article about it: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnewsbuzz/2011/02/lausd-puts-oliver-on-a-no-filming-diet-.html ) we were able to welcome him to West Adams where he cooked with our culinary students – who then won a city-wide cooking competition – and taught a couple of food/nutrition classes for our kids. On the ground, trying to make sure all was well with a film crew on one’s pubic school campus, the whole thing was exhausting. But it was also really cool to watch our kids experience something quite different from what they’re used to in their day-to-day school lives. They cooked, sampled new foods, talked, debated, listened, experienced, and learned with a bunch of television cameras around and a “famous” person who brought a lot of attention their way. And our kids rocked – and I really hope that comes through on the small screen.
In Teaching Harry Potter, Becky and I talk a lot about new media and the value of using popular culture in the classroom. But with this experience, the classroom became part of popular culture. And the results? The kids I’ve talked with so far have all ranked working with Jamie as a highlight of the year. And our advanced culinary students spent their spring break week in New York taking classes as part of their prize package for winning the city-wide competition. For my part, I’m still thinking on it and withholding final judgment until the series completes it run on ABC (and I can breathe easy about how our kids are presented on national television). But it has given me a lot to mull over – especially about urban students of color in the media and how it does or doesn’t interact with them, and what that interaction looks like when it does happen. And since the whole thing was about healthy eating, there is definitely a lot to think about in terms of nutritional health in the community and at school and how the district deals with these issues. Mostly, though, I hope that everyone who watches will see our South LA kids for the amazing, caring, and thoughtful people they are. In the end, hanging out with them every day is what makes my job brilliant.