“Dear young corner boy,” narrators declare in unison with the sound of children playing in the background. “I’ve noticed lately you’ve been skipping school to stand on that corner.” The speakers encourage “the young corner boy,” a drug dealer in Mount Vernon, to get an education, to find a path that won’t land him in jail—or worse.
The film, titled Dear Young Corner Boy, was created by Mount Vernon students at the Peak Center, a teen drop-in center in Mount Vernon, through an outreach filmmaking program called Reel Change that’s run by the Jacob Burns Film Center. The film, a finalist for the YouTube DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards, was also screened for city officials as part of a campaign by the teens to have funds allocated for them to travel to educational and enrichment programs away from the harsh streets they portrayed.
Increasingly, the Pleasantville-based Burns Center, says Director of Education Programs Emily Keating, is bringing opportunities like this to students throughout the county, educating them on film, reading, and the link between the two. The programs, which had more than 11,000 students in 2011, work with kids in grades from pre-K to high school; many of the students attend schools in cash-strapped districts like Yonkers and Mount Vernon.
“We saw, even ten years ago, how school budgets were shrinking,” Keating says. “We made it a very overt and conscientious part of our activities to include under-served school districts.”
While programs for younger grades might concentrate on story structure, kids in higher grades can produce a claymation film, study a foreign language through subtitled movies, or learn screenplay techniques.
“Written and visual texts have a lot in common: characters, setting, conflicts, subtext, metaphors, themes,” says Keating, who adds: “We hear on an almost daily basis, ‘Oh my gosh—that child never participates.’ Teachers say over and over, ‘I can’t believe so-and-so raised his hand.’”