A video produced by parents at a California elementary school to protest state budget cuts has become an online sensation, offering several lessons in internet advocacy for school stakeholders.
Called “Hot for Teachers,” the video is less than four minutes long and uses humor and star power to send a serious message about the impact teacher cuts are having on class size and academic opportunities.
Produced by parents at Wonderland Avenue Elementary School, the video stars actor Brian Austin Green of television’s Beverly Hills 90210 and actress Megan Fox, best known for her recurring role in the Transformers movie blockbusters.
In the video, students lament losing their teacher, teacher’s assistant, school nurse, and custodial staff. “No wonder so many of us end up in prison,” muses one fifth grader.
Wonderland parents—a dream team that includes a public-relations expert with ties to the entertainment industry—wrote the script and produced the video.
After showing students stuffed in the school library as a result of budget cuts, the video urges viewers to “call, write, and annoy the governor until he cries for his mommy.”
Viewers are also encouraged to contact their state legislators and sign a petition at the Wonderland PTA’s “Say No to Cuts” web site.
“It’s very creative and well done,” says Robert L. Alaniz, director of communications and media relations for the Los Angeles Unified School District, noting that the media started calling for interviews with the principal and parents shortly after the video was uploaded on Funny or Die, a comedy video web site.
Funny or Die filmed the video, which protests massive education cuts planned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“The school’s PTA president came up with the idea of creating a video, and one parent suggested they ask Brian Austin Green to star in it,” says Alaniz. “Green, whose son attends the school, agreed, and he got his girlfriend, actress Megan Fox, to costar.”
Just like a cold or flu that spreads rapidly through close contact, the video spread virally online as web users shared the file with friends and social networking sites.
Uploaded on April 6, the video had garnered more than one million views on Funny or Die by early May. It also was picked up by YouTube, the Huffington Post, and a host of other sites.
The state PTA urged members to share the video via eMail and to use other tools developed as part of its “9 Million Reasons to Speak Up” campaign in support of California’s public schools.
“In the past two years, the state has cut $17 billion from schools, and deep cuts to social services have added to the burden borne by children and families,” the California PTA states on its web site. “An additional $2.4 billion is now being proposed in new cuts to schools, as well as the possible elimination of entire health programs that serve children. PTA strongly opposes these proposals.”
One of the tactics recommended by the California PTA is a “pass-it-on eMail” blast campaign, along with more traditional techniques such as letter writing campaigns and petition drives.
“Send a message to your eMail lists of people you know in California and ask them to forward to their California friends,” urges the web site, which includes sample messages in Spanish as well as in English.
The viral online campaign spawned by Wonderland’s “Hot for Teachers” video and the state PTA also garnered extensive coverage by a number of area newspapers and television stations.
As Wonderland’s experience shows, the combination of online outreach with more traditional grassroots organizing techniques can be powerful.
The innovative twist of telling the story through humor helped ensure an audience, along with the star power of Green, a Wonderland PTA parent, and Fox.
While humor is always risky, and has the potential to offend or fall flat, a more traditional approach might not have resonated as well with parents or generated as much media interest.
Because most school PTAs don’t count Hollywood actors, producers, publicists, and script writers among their members, replicating Wonderland’s success might seem beyond reach. Yet most school districts have a host of uninhibited, creative high school students they could probably turn loose with equally impressive results.
Faced with devastating cuts nationwide, public school officials have little to lose and much to gain in using new information technologies to tell their stories more effectively. Enlisting parents and students in the effort is a good place to start.
Award-winning eSchool News columnist Nora Carr is the chief of staff for North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools.