Video production firm Portal A usually targets hipsters, Silicon Valley geeks and voters as its audience — but its newest film? Children in Oakland public schools.
Portal A has teamed up with Oakland Unified School District to create and produce a video about attendance and the importance of being at school. “I’m an Oakland School Kid” is set to air Wednesday on YouTube.
Starring OUSD students and National Football League star Marshawn Lynch, an Oakland native who went to Oakland Public Schools, the video focuses on the daydreams of one young boy whose teacher tells him about the rewards of school.
“If you put in the work today, tomorrow you can be whatever you want to be,” the teacher says, and the boy’s imagination takes off with images of physicists, politicians and professional athletes: the myriad possibilities before him. Soon, lots of kids are boogieing to the Rihanna tune, “Please Don’t Stop the Music,” but singing the words, “I’ve got to get to class” and “I’m an Oakland school kid.” Oakland Unified and Portal A are launching it as a public service announcement for kids.
“It’s a really important issue,” said Zach Blume, Managing Director of Portal A and one of its founders, “and it hits close to home.”
All of the 20-something principals of the San Francisco-based firm are East Bay natives. Blume and Creative Director Kai Hasson grew up in Berkeley. Nate Houghteling, Executive Producer, and Drew Glover, head of partnerships, grew up in Oakland, and Glover’s mom, Robin Bailer Glover, is Principal of OUSD’s Dewey High School.
OUSD Communications Director Troy Flint, himself a 20-something social media maven, approached Portal A about doing a video on attendance, and then worked with the studio to find student actors, musicians and compelling words. “Attendance has been a big issue” in Oakland, he said.
Indeed, according to the most recent data, which is for the 2011 – 12 year, 10 percent of Oakland Unified students are chronically absent, including 14 percent of high school students and 14 percent of kindergarteners. Chronic absence, defined as missing more than 18 days in a school year, is highest among the very young and high school.
Yet when kids miss a lot of school in the youngest grades, they are statistically more likely to drop out of school in high school. Dropping out of high school statistically leads to joblessness and a greater likelihood of incarceration.
But getting the message across to parents of youngsters and to high school students themselves has been a challenge, Flint said. “It’s really a focus for us,” he continued, but a frustrating one. “While there have been modest gains (in attendance) as a result of our efforts, gains are not as significant as I’d like to see,” he added.
“I know part of the problem is we are not always reaching target audience. Sometimes some of our messages on this topic are on the dry side and not engaging. So we wanted to try something much more engaging that would be student-focused.”
Flint and the creators at Portal A figure that if they could interest students — particularly elementary school students — in their video, the kids would pressure parents to get them to school.
“At the elementary level, the biggest challenge is getting parents to appreciate how important early learning is,” he said. “Some parents have the impression that school is not serious until the secondary level, but school builds upon itself as skills build,” Flint said. Also, “Absenteeism at the elementary level is the most correctable,” so he commissioned Portal A to take on the topic in creating a video for the Web.
Portal A’s other clients are tech and business firms, including Microsoft and Fisher Investments, and sponsors of progressive political causes such as “Yes on Prop. 39,” the 2012 ballot initiative that closed a corporate tax loophole and brought billions back to California for energy efficiency spending. Some of Portal A’s actors are professional actors, like Felicia Day.
But in this film, students from Oakland’s Westlake, Montera and Edna Brewer Middle Schools and La Escuelita and Glenview Elementary Schools are the stars. The video was shot at La Escuelita on a Saturday in June.