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Dream School

October 30, 2013

“Challenges don’t have to be obstacles”  Fabian Cousteau on Dream School.

dream schoolWhen I was negotiating my terms for one of my last reality tv projects, the director of production at the production company said to me “it’s just another reality show. We aren’t changing the world”.

This stuck with me and in my mind, confirmed that it was time to make a change. I didn’t want to change the world, but I definitely want to make a difference. In my own life for sure but hopefully in others’ lives too.

I had heard rumblings of a new reality show produced by 50 Cent but didn’t know much about it. Then, I recently stumbled onto it and it’s not your everyday reality show. It’s a new series called Dream School on Sundance Channel and man am I hooked. This is in fact the kind of reality show that is going to hopefully change the world and change lives. I am watching it happen every week right before my eyes.

The show takes a handful of high school drop-outs and gives them a hard core 6 week program to get their high school diploma. Led by a group of celebrities and scholars, this show is about making an investment in these kids. Not to change their surroundings or circumstance. Not to change who they are or what they’ve done. But to give these kids the chance to change where they are going!

That’s right: This show is about the future and that blows my mind.

David Arquette (who acts as the ‘Homeroom Teacher’), Soledad O’Brien, Suze Orman, Oliver Stone, Swizz Beatz, Jeff Corwin … these are just a few of the big time names that show up to help teach these kids what they need to graduate and succeed.

This isn’t about a big Cause Celebre where these big names are doing a publicity stunt. These celebrities are showing up and diving in, getting involved and getting their hands dirty.

The scene with David Arquette and the transgender student Alan was one of the most authentic moments I have ever seen on reality TV. Only to be outdone by when Suze Orman referred to Alan as “she”.  After the class, Alan approached Ms. Orman and was given the opportunity to defend himself and really set the tone for his future.

But you could tell this kid has been bullied and beaten down. The moment when Suze reminded him to get in people’s faces (respectfully of course) and assert himself was powerful stuff. It was clear Alan had never been in such an environment where not only were his needs met, but they were a priority!  It was an empowering moment to see.

It was amazing to watch Oliver Stone, one of the world’s most respected and admired Directors, a true Story Teller, get shot down by a group of uninterested students. In his first class with the students, he could not reach them. And we are talking about Oliver Stone! He makes his LIVING connecting with people through cinema. But he could not connect with these kids.

He came back, in this week’s episode for his second class and it was like a totally different person. Mr. Stone told his story of being in Vietnam. He connected with the students and had them engaged and interested and asking questions. It was amazing to see the turn around.

And it was amazing to see the kids OPEN to give him that second chance instead of tuning him out from the start.

I watch this series with tears in my eyes. Tears of sadness for what our nation’s education system has become and tears of joy that this small group of celebrities took interest and are changing the future for these kids and hopefully the way people look at education. This series could very well be the wake up call this nation’s education system needed.

For me, it’s personal. I was bounced from school to school. Kicked out of so many I can’t even tell you. They didn’t know what to do with me. Back 30 years ago, a child with Aspergers was more of a destruction and distraction that a glimmer of hope for the future. No one knew what to do to educate me or connect with me.

Finally I landed in more of a warehouse than a school. A place to go every day. An institution. I graduated with a high school diploma but was not prepared to be a success. I clawed my way through and luckily for me, I survived and did become a success. I know many who didn’t.

I understand Dream School. I get it. I celebrate it each week when you can see the lives being changed. I thought I left reality TV for good, but if they staff up for this series, I may have to lobby to find my way back in to be on this project.

I encourage you to check out the series. But more than that, I encourage you to be inspired by it.

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