Roosevelt High School was a great institution for encouraging creativity. The strongest element in the American education system is the environment fostered to nurture the imagination of young minds. For that, I will always be grateful to my North American neighbours. My passion throughout my early scholastic development was history. I always wanted to find out more about everything. Wrapping up my final year in Lima, I was excited that our IB History teacher, Mr. Cotner, give us the chance to decide what we wanted to do as our final project for the year. It was a true blessing that imagination and history came together in this instance. I acted quickly to rally my troops, enlisting the services of my usual suspects, Alejandro, Crack, Glen and William (the other one, not myself) and picked up some free agents to complete the roster.
|The creative process can be frustrating|
There was no doubt in my mind that the topic should be The Cuban Revolution. It had been the conflict that had by far raised the most interest in my history career in school, and I was also fresh off the Cuban boat – of course as a tourist, which is completely different than being a citizen from the island that knows the REAL Cuba. We were convinced that the best way to present the subject was through visualization. Most people tend to be more engaged through tangible images rather than just words on a sheet of paper, or an abstract lecture standing in front of the entire class. Nobody likes that. The words “this person loves the sound of their own voice” come to mind. This style of presentation eventually became overshadowed by the avant garde PowerPoint presentations. Images and graphs make a difference. Now, if that is true, it is even more so when we are talking about teenagers. At that age, we think we already know everything we need to, so it is tough to impress us. We have all been there, enough to agree on this generalization. We opted for a high impact home video.
This project generated my first experience in the world of script writing. I could have gone all the way to Hollywood for sure. I would go further and still say it was an admirable script for someone whose training was primarily based on Cable Mágico TV channels - mostly HBO Olé, Cinemax and MTV Latino. Well some classic South American football dives too. I was hardly forced to take on this role as director, scriptwriter, producer, casting, etc. My passion fuelled my enterprise and I was open to critique and input from my colleagues. I guess it was also my first experience in project management and leadership. The story began with Fidel Castro (yours truly), Che Guevara (William Erickson) and Camilo Cienfuegos (Alejandro Alves) storming the Cuban National Capitol in Havana (our IB History classroom) to kick out the evil dictator, Fulgencio Batista (our teacher Mr. Cotner) and take over government. Of course, the entire production was absolutely impeccable and worthy of a High School Oscar.
Those of us involved in the project were so enthused and having such a great time, I remember we managed to get volunteers to play extra roles in the film. The best scene we shot was down in the Larcomar shopping centre in Miraflores, where Fidel, Che and Camilo were going to catch some rays at Playa Girón – actually the beach on the Miraflores coast – and we were supposed to have gotten lost trying to get there. That is so unlike Fidel, don’t you think? We filmed the three amigos walking in to Hard Rock Café in Larcomar, where we coached the Maitre D’ to give us directions to the beach on camera. He was a good sport. Upon reaching Playa Girón – a settlement in the Bay of Pigs – the not-so-barbudos hung out at the entrance of Fidel’s beach house – a public outhouse – where a rag tag CIA trained army – our High School student extras – came for a battle royal to take over Cuba. Of course, like history dictates, they failed. In our case, not a single shot was fired.
|Camilo, Fidel and Che digging the Hard Rock|
The key ingredient in making the education process valuable, especially when dealing with high school kids, is to give students space to grow. If they demonstrate enthusiasm and stay on task, do anything you can to support their passion, or stand back if need be. Mr. Cotner was just that kind of teacher. In my entire time in that school, not a single person had complained about his teaching method or his attitude. I like to think he led by example. He was just one of those teachers that stand out. He gave us the tools to become independent decision makers and taught us to be aware of consequences. He really prepared us, without us even knowing, for the world after Roosevelt. In most North American schools, you are dumped into a “sink or swim” scenario. Thanks to the discipline acquired in my IB History class, I have always kept my head above water. My only regret is not having this video on VHS anymore. It was a classic of epic proportions.