Friday, July 30, 2010

Back To School With Cheryl Hines & NBC...

School Pride, a new "alternative" reality series from Cheryl Hines, premieres on NBC later this fall, just after students all across the southland return to their classrooms. But today it was presented to television critics in Los Angeles at NBC's TCA day. My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture wasn't in attendance today but got to preview the show earlier in the month when visiting the "reveal" of one of the local schools the show renovated.

School Pride features a unique design and renovation team that travels around the country to offer second chances to schools that are experiencing tremendous budget cuts or other kinds of dilapidation. In many cases, this means restoring the arts programs; in some it means a fresh coat of paint, upgraded features, and utilizing new technology; but in all it means inspiring the kids, and the community in turn.

Hines shared with My Life, Made Possible by Pop Culture that the show was born out of her idea to help before she even really knew what needed to be done or what she could offer. "Several years ago I was inspired to reach out to schools," she started during an interview at the "reveal" of LACES, one of the L.A. schools from the first season. "My first thought was to reach out to schools in other countries. And then my husband said, 'Well, what about our country?'

"I literally cold-called a principal at one of the elementary schools in Compton and said: 'How's your school? I don't know why I'm calling [but] I'm feeling the need to reach out and help a school, and is your school in need?' She said, 'Come down and let me really show you around.'..We hit it off immediately. We basically renovated the school-- she was principal of Carver Elementary-- and it had such an impact on the students and that community. I was moved by it. Their test scores went up; the property value around the school went up; it just made such a huge difference. And that's what sparked the show. We wanted to show the country how to do it."

That's just what Hines and her crew will be doing in places like Baton Rouge, Detroit, and Los Angeles again, at another charter school that the students there deemed "Enter prison" for how run down the building was but also the mentality within the walls. That particular school is actually Enterprise, where School Pride shot its pilot over a ten-day period. Hines explained that though "every school has it's own story to tell," that one in particular was special because "they feel like a track and field school. They're proud of that; but they didn't have a track or a field. But that's who they envision themselves being so we focus on different things at different schools...Every school has its own personality. And every school needs different things."

At Enterprise, one of those things that Hines was proud to announce the show gave the students was a reading room with new computers and comfortable seating areas so the kids could just relax. Involvement with that school grew out of the personal experience that she had with the Compton school district, having worked with Carver Elementary previously.

"I was close to the people that worked there, and I had already worked with them, so it was a nice fit for us," Hines stated, though she was quick to point out that the other six episodes of the first season featured schools that were selected by part of her production staff. "They look[ed] at schools that do really need help [but also] at schools that want to help themselves. That's a big element of the show: to inspire the community and the kid and the teachers to pitch in and help."

As an artist (actor) herself, Hines admitted she did fight to put the arts programs back in schools, so she was thrilled to get to work with LACES, where they are an arts magnet school, focusing on music, theater, and culinary arts. However, in keeping with the theme that each school will get the specific attention for which it calls, she is not allowing her personal feelings to cloud or create an agenda for the show.

"You know, when you have something to look forward to at school, you feel like you want to go to school; you have a better attitude; you try harder and you work harder. So I feel like this show; we definitely want to make sure that we're adding something that the kids will love. We want to make them feel proud of their school."


Hines continued: "The reaction from the parents—I mean, they literally have tears of joy because these parents know how much this is going to help their kids. One of the parents said 'This is going to make such a huge difference for these kids and how they learn.' Sometimes the kids come in, and it's cool and exciting, but then the parents come, and they see the bigger picture of how this is going to help them. Every parent wants what's best for their kids; it comes with the territory. But not every parent has the resources to give their kids everything. We have to watch out for each other!"


Be sure to watch Hines' handiwork on NBC every Friday this fall at 8 pm. And for the Spirit Team interviews, please click on over to my Examiner page as it gets closer to the season premiere.


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