He came up to the podium looking like a stylized beach version of the Great Gatsby. Top-siders without socks, dark blue trouser shorts patterned with red embossed anchors, a starchy-new cream-colored sport coat with a blue- and white-checked pocket scarf, a white dress shirt with dark blue tie and stylish, neatly parted black hair. A striking presence.
Jack Winter, a senior at Laguna Beach High School, was describing his online professional-looking magazine, produced for the first time by a student on his personal iPad, to school board members at their meeting last week. The thought occurred: this kid could easily turn out to be a New York magazine mogul. Winter said later he was trying out the outfit to see if he liked the look enough to wear it to senior prom that weekend.
“It was a quirky outfit,” Winter effacingly admitted. But it, and he, made a lasting impression.
Winter shared the podium with the district’s technology director, Victor Guthrie, to show board members what an iPad could produce in the right hands. The week before, Guthrie had been excitedly called to the LBHS principal’s office to witness what Winter had done.
Joanne Culverhouse, LBHS’s principal, proudly called him “our go-to tech guy” at the meeting. Winter’s abilities, it seems, are signaling a change in the teaching game at the high school. His goal? An iPad for every student.
Guthrie said students’ creativity is being “unleashed” with unlimited possibilities that computer technology and online information can provide. “You don’t always need the teacher and learning by rote,” Guthrie conveyed to the board in his update on students’ use of technology. “What we need to realize is that we are the facilitators for learning. We’re no longer the ones providing all the knowledge; we facilitate that learning.” Jack Winter, he said, exemplifies that potential.
Jack’s class assignment was the same project Mark Alvarez assigns to his high school economics class every year. The final product, a publication titled “The Laguna Beach Economist,” required students to report on the standard topics of inflation, unemployment and poverty. But this year, Alvarez added a new twist by saying that it couldn’t be on paper, it had to be done online.
“It was neat for me to take that next step, hard for me to give up the teacher,” said Alvarez. “You always want to have total control and just tell students exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it. I’ve learned that by sometimes giving them more freedom and encouraging them to pursue what area they’re strong in, you get better results, and the kids have more fun doing it.”
Winter ran with the new cue, teaching himself everything about online publishing via the same application used by successful magazines such as “Popular Science Wired.” He produced a full-color, graphically appealing publication with edgy articles written by other students in his group, much more than Alvarez had in mind. “I wanted to do something more modern relating to now instead of relating to the class,” Winter explained. “There’s not really anyone I can learn it from so I had to go online and teach all this stuff to myself.”
Teaching it to himself made him learn more. “You get more insight on the topic. You know all the specifics of everything. If you’re just listening to someone telling you about it, you might not grasp all of it,” he surmised.
Laguna, however, isn’t New York or even L.A. Yet, Winter has carved out a self-taught niche at school, focusing not only on online magazine production but film as well. “Unfortunately, there aren’t that many kids who are into film,” Winter said. That distinction, and other credits he’s racked up, got him accepted next year at Chapman University’s film school.
Guthrie described Jack’s online magazine as professional caliber. “He’s going to be big,” Guthrie predicted. “I went home after the meeting and told my wife, ‘Remember this name; he’s the next Spielberg or something.’”
And that’s exactly what Winter wants. “I want to one day become a feature film director of big Hollywood hit films. I like the scale and what-not,” he said. “I’m hoping that all works out and the industry is hiring.”
But Jack, like any kid, attests his mom, Kristin, has his drawbacks. “He’s very sure of what he wants in life, which is not the easiest thing to parent all the time,” she said. “But I also think that will take you far in life. He’s going to make an interesting adult.” She said Jack’s eye for visual composition “was evident pretty early on.”
That penchant found its place at Thurston Middle School with multi-media teacher Andy Crisp, Jack’s mentor still today.
“With the explosion of YouTube and Vimeo,” Crisp related, “online tutorials are so easily available that kids, anybody, can teach themselves just about anything by going online. There’s great content out there.”
Jack’s already made some tracks to get his content out there. In 2011, he produced a film called “Don’t Blow It” that focused on plastics polluting the ocean. It won MacGillivray-Freeman’s One World One Ocean’s annual student film contest and was shown at the Newport Beach Film Festival.
“The video he did was very creative, imaginative and comical,” recalled MacGillivray, president of MacGillivray-Freeman Films, which produces environmentally conscious IMAX movies. “It opened people’s eyes to the problem of ocean plastics. I remember when it was run as part of our competition, everyone loved it.”
Beyond that, it takes a certain person with a proclivity for a certain skill set, said Crisp. “What it really comes down to,” he said, “is having, I think, an eye for storytelling and the desire to self-start. That’s what Jack has.”
Here’s a link to one of the school district videos Jack worked on: http://vimeopro.com/lbusd/videos
Photos by Edgar Obrand