Art and ingenuity in the shadow of Google

I needed an animated ad to promote my new blog on Rough & Tumble, the California news site, and I had no luck finding someone through my  old newspaper contacts. After a week of searching, I ended up where I probably should have started– with two enterprising high school students.

In the process, I received not only an ad but also an education. I got to tour their school, Freestyle Academy of Communication Arts & Technology, which provides the type of high-tech, hands-on, project-based learning that Silicon Valley – and any valley in California – needs more of.

Freestyle  Academy is a small, 128-student, two-year, half-day program for juniors and seniors in the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District. It’s not officially one of the 464 career academies that the state funds but it operates similarly, with small classes  that integrate rigorous academics with technical skills. With $430,000 annually from the city of Mountain View and partnerships with Adobe, HP, Sony and Synopsys, Freestyle can afford to design what it wants to be.

Freestyle, located in portables next to Mountain View High, is down the road from Google, Intel, HP and Yahoo! Freestyle grads may end up at one of them eventually; they’d certainly have the skills. But Freestyle’s mission is to send graduates to UC and CSU, the film program at USC or fine arts at Pratt Institute. Many of them will have the portfolios catch notice of the admissions office.

You can see samples of their work on the school’s web site. These students are turning out some very cool stuff. Some have won awards; one documentary on the first Down Syndrome employee at Starbucks, sold for $5,000.

Students produce digital animations, film documentaries, personal web sites, self-portraits combining photography, illustrations and audio files, podcasts and screenplays. Using sophisticated cameras and editing equipment and a top-quality sound studio, students become adept in multimedia tools, including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Flash, After Effects, Garageband, Pro Tools, and Final Cut Pro.

“If you are bored, you’re not doing something right.” Katrina Krupa

By critiquing each other’s work and working in teams, they learn collaboration and the art of criticism, useful skills for the workplace and college.

All students take English, where they write scripts, documentaries and storyboards for their productions, and Design, where they learn principles of composition,  art and photography; both are a-g courses, qualifying as UC and CSU prerequisites.  As their third course, students choose between film and web production; they do advanced projects in their second year.

Freestyle is for self-starters willing to put in a lot of production time. “It’s like a college setting. Teachers are there to help you,” Katrina Krupa, a senior,  told me. “If you are bored, you’re not doing something right.”

Katrina and junior Nick Giles were my ad designers,  working independently, on their own time. With a bit of prodding from their teacher, Leo Florendo, who encourages students to take on outside jobs, they worked and revised it over about a week.

Compared with the animation Katrina was working on, it was a pretty simple project – but very flashy and effective, well worth the $50 each I paid them. But judge for yourself on Rough & Tumble; you can’t miss it, in the middle of the left column.  It’s one more example why career academies are worth investing in.

Katrina Krupa designed the ad for my blog.

Katrina Krupa designed the ad for my blog.


This entry was posted in A to G Curriculum, STEM on by .

About John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (, one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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