Local high school students invited to apply for James Franco film class

Deadline for applications is Sept. 10

People like to use the phrase, "Only in Palo Alto." It certainly will be thrown around with the news that actor and Palo Alto native James Franco will be making a film with local high school students this year.

Franco is teaming up with one of his former teachers, Palo Alto High School journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki, to teach an eight-part film class that is open to all local students, grades 9 through 12.

Franco announced the class on his Instagram Friday night with a selfie and a link to apply, imploring students to "Sign up NOW!" The post had 92,000 likes as of Sunday morning.

Wojcicki told the Weekly that the class is an example of the educational philosophy she espouses in her recent book, "Moonshots in Education: Launching Blended Learning in the Classroom," a how-to guide on creating classrooms focused on collaboration, project-based learning and student agency. (Franco also wrote the foreword to the book.)

"He's really passionate about project-based learning, authentic learning," Wojcicki said. "I think that that's his motivation -- he wants to show (that) it can actually be done, to other schools around the county (that) people don't have to wait around for new legislation or more classroom buildings or whatever. It can be done now."

The 24 lucky students selected for the class will be divided into eight groups of three to work on separate "episodes" of a film, the script for which Franco has written (and Wojcicki vetted). The class will meet once a month for five hours, with the individual teams meeting in between. Franco's film team, as well as his brothers Dave and Tom and his mother Betsy, will also participate in the class, Wojcicki said.

Franco has previously taught at the university level at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles. Wojcicki said he's long wanted to teach high schoolers. He's also in the midst of getting a doctorate in English at Yale University.

Franco was most recently on the Paly campus last fall to create paintings for the grand opening of the Media Arts Center as well as 10-foot murals based on photos from Franco's freshman yearbook in 1993.

"He really is very interested in education," Wojcicki said. "He's a very multitalented Renaissance guy."

The class, which is free, will begin on Sept. 13. Wojcicki is donating her time, and Franco is covering the rest of the expenses for now, she said.

Local students can apply to the class through Thursday, Sept. 10, at midnight. Film students in the Palo Alto Unified School District will be given priority, but all are welcome to apply, Wojcicki said. The application asks if students have their own camera, but cameras will be provided if they don't.

The class will not provide any academic credit to the participating students. Parents of all students will be asked to fill out a release form, Wojcicki.

Students must submit a 200-word essay about why they want to be in the workshop and what they would bring to the class, as well as a one-minute video created on their cell phone to introduce themselves. Wojcicki, Franco and his assistant will review the applications, Wojcicki said.

Franco posted a screen shot of this article to his Instagram on Sunday, describing the class as "the class I would have wanted when I was in high school."

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