CAA Honors Three For Work With At-Risk Students

Guests mingled at the home of CAA President Richard Lovett to honor three women, including the agency's Chief Innovation Officer Michelle Kydd Lee.

Industry insiders gathered at the Los Angeles home of Creative Artists Agency president Richard Lovett Tuesday night for a ceremony honoring three significant Communities in Schools of Los Angeles (CISLA) leaders.

Presented by CAA and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, honors were given to CISLA program director Dana Henry, CISLA founding board chair Donna Weiss, and chief innovation officer of CAA Michelle Kydd Lee, for their contributions in providing a support system for students in twelve public schools throughout Los Angeles. With offices housed in the CAA building, the LA chapter places site coordinators at middle and high schools to provide at-risk students with the resources and support to advance in school.

In June 2013, 96 percent of seniors in CISLA graduated compared to the Los Angeles School District's 64 percent graduation rate. Weiss noted that the program does not only change the student's lives but everyone they impact as well. 

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"By helping students one at the time, we’re beginning to change the culture of their schools," said Weiss. "I was connecting with some of our graduating seniors and to see them proud of their accomplishments, excited about entering the workforce and going into the next phase of their life is so rewarding because a lot of the time when we get students they are disheartened."

Deonte Lang, a graduating senior from Loyola Marymount University, praised the instrumental role Henry had in his path to college as his site coordinator for CISLA. Lang said that the constant support from Henry -- whether it was academically or simply meeting for lunch -- helped him to get through college. He will soon be graduating with honors. 

“Her office became my little in school sanctuary,” said Lang. “Killing time, venting, getting help, whatever I needed it was in that office with Ms. Henry, said Lang. “As much as I would like to say that I was the favorite of Ms. Henry, it’s actually not true. She built a lot of similarly strong relationships with many other students which is really remarkable for her.”

Henry acknowledged her mother for giving her the support to succeed in education, and said that she passes that support on to her students at CISLA. She added that the the most important factor that makes CISLA successful is the relationships with both the students and the school districts.

“It really takes the development of relationship. It sounds really simple but the core of it is that relationships are the key to making systemic change.

Lee expressed that she holds her position at CAA today because Lovett believed in her and related her story to the positive impact one leader can have in changing a student’s life.

“Everybody needs to hear that one person believes that you’re the greatest thing that ever happened to this world,” said Lee. “That’s what Dana does for Deonte. That’s what our site coordinators do for our kids. That’s what Communities in Schools is all about.”

Other guests in attendance were musician Nick Jonas, actress Sanaa Lathan and director David Guggenheim. Executive Director of CISLA Deborah Marcus told The Hollywood Reporter that it’s important to address the social and emotional as well as the academic needs of students. She hopes that in moving forward, more companies will get involved in public education.

“Our kids growing up in LA and in Hollywood, they know about actors and they know about athletes but we take them to CAA and they learn about the entire industry that supports that industry and all of the different job opportunities that are housed within that building, said Marcus. “If every studio in this city embraced public education and the need to support all of our students in the same way we could really make a difference.”