Warren High celebrates completion of movie back lot

DOWNEY ‚àí After nearly seven months of hard work and diligence on the part of dozens of students and faculty members, Warren High School unveiled its latest campus fixture this week, a new movie back lot modeled after Paramount Studios.In the presence of students, faculty and Downey Unified School District officials, film teacher Andy Lundsberg praised the $11,000 project, which includes a 20-by-20 herb and produce garden, a new warehouse for construction classes, and a small town street back lot for film students. "We want to thank the community for all the support. We couldn't have done this without you," said Lundsberg while addressing the enthusiastic crowd. "This is important for everyone. It's the culmination of a lot of hard work and a great learning experience for these students. That's what it's all about, broadening their horizons." Earlier this year, Lundsberg and Warren High construction teacher Kent Kiess applied for and received an $11,200 campus improvement grant from home improvement store Lowe's and SkillsUSA, which annually awards various schools around the country with community and campus improvement grants aimed at helping promote education and technical trades. Hoping to encourage students to embrace both creative arts and technical skills, Lundsberg and Keiss drafted a plan to incorporate the needs of more than 450 students in film, culinary arts, photography, construction and graphic arts. Unlike other building projects around the 40-acre campus, the back lot, garden and warehouse were designed, painted and constructed primarily by Warren students. Under the direction of Keiss, students built an entire facade on the back of a classroom building to look like a street with several storefronts and a rundown alleyway. Students also added concrete curbs and sidewalks along the backdrop. While some storefronts are nicely decorated with brick and steel, others look distressed and appear aged and unkempt, providing students options while filming. For Warren student Javier Vazquez, the back lot project offered him the unique opportunity of working at an actual construction site. "There were a lot of things to learn, but Mr. Keiss really supported us," Vazquez said. "I learned how to use a saw, I drew up blueprints. It was a really big challenge, but it doesn't feel like a job. You like it, you do it." Josue Rojas, who takes Lundsberg's film class, also praised the new movie back lot, which he believes will help students remain competitive during regional and state contests. "Instead of leaving school to get the shots we need, we can film on location on this great set that construction put together for us, saving us time," he said. Once fully grown, the new herb and produce garden designated primarily for the food and culinary science department will allow students to grow fruits and vegetables that can be used in both the classroom and the school cafeteria. Keiss believes the project overall allows students to learn vital lessons that cannot usually be taught on an average school campus. "It's hard in a classroom to demonstrate what real life situations are like...but this puts them in the real world," said Keiss. "We had a deadline and they had to get it done ‚àí they got to it." With just 57 minutes of class everyday, Keiss' students often worked after school, weekends and even holidays in order to finish the project before the November deadline. "They made their mistakes, but that's how you learn. They worked together to find a way to get it done," Keiss said. "Now whenever they pass by I'm sure they're going to smile and say 'I helped build that.'" Unable to apply for a Lowe's grant two years in row, Lundsberg and Keiss maintain that they will apply for funds again in the future that can be utilized at Warren High School and the neighboring communities of Downey. "We'll win another [grant], we'll think of something new," Keiss said.

********** Published: December 1, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 33