Hidden Hallway Stories: Enrichment Through Creative Storytelling

The Kant Institute (TKI) Hidden Truths Project and the University of California Irvine: Claire Trevor School of the Arts (UCI) collaborated on a pilot project, Hidden Hallway Stories (HHS), connecting with at-risk high school students from the Newport-Mesa School District of Orange County, California.  The HHS program was designed to promote individual wellbeing and enrichment through an interactive project involving creative storytelling and filmmaking.

Orange County, California has a population of 3.17 million people and is ranked as one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.  In addition, the cost of living is 85% higher than the national average and 22% of its population lives below the poverty line.

A group of students were identified by the Newport Harbor High School (NHHS) Counseling Department and Save Our Youth (SOY), a non-profit, serving low-income/at-risk youths in the area. Sixteen students from NHHS and five from SOY were invited to attend an informational meeting, and from this group eight students were enrolled in the program.

Many of the students are first generation American citizens, living in households where English is a second language or not spoken at all.  The parents of these students struggle daily to provide for the basics needs of their families, often working at multiple low paying jobs. There are limited community resources to provide for any type of enrichment programs or recreational activities. These students confront poverty and discrimination at school and in their communities.  This sets up a significant opportunity gap, which leads to challenges in their education.  On the other hand, many of these student’s peers come from families who have the means to provide additional resources or financial support to enhance their own children’s academic success. Educational success has been identified as one of the strongest protective factors to break the cycle of poverty.

Hidden Hallway Stories pilot project was designed to provide the participants a chance for self-expression through filmmaking. With the help of experts, the students worked collaboratively to create a short fiction film exploring their high school experiences, how it has shaped their identities, and their fears for the future.

A brainstorming session was initially conducted with the students, followed by a tour of the UCI campus. Subsequently, a two-day seminar was conducted under the tutelage of Bryan Jackson and David Rincon, faculty and staff in the Digital Filmmaking Program.  Day-1 involved a seminar in creative storytelling and the basics of filmmaking. Day-2 involved an interactive tutorial on the use of filmmaking equipment, which culminated in the creation of a short fictional film, Goldie Loca.

A survey was conducted at the end of the project and the students uniformly agreed that art can play a role in their education.  In addition, they felt creative storytelling and filmmaking was an effective outlet to let their voices be heard, let their personal stories be told, and to highlight their differences in a non-threatening manner.  The students acknowledged an improvement in self-esteem and wellbeing through their participation in this creative workshop. At the completion of the workshop, they all showed an interest in pursuing a career in some aspect of the film industry.

Given the success of Hidden Hallway Stories, TKI and UCI are in the development stages of an annual summer workshop in creative storytelling and filmmaking for low income, at-risk students.

The Kant Institute would like to extend a special thanks and appreciation to the following individuals for their support of Hidden Hallway Stories: Sean Boulton, Principal NHHS; Ryan Esfahani, policy analyst, The Kennedy Commission; Andrew McNeely, MFA in Critical and Curatorial Studies, UCI; and Joe Robinson, teacher NHHS.