At the LA Unified School District’s Career Technical Education Center (LAUSD CTE), the Arts, Media, and Entertainment (AME) industry is the sector with the highest number of high school and middle school students enrolled, about 16,000. Within AME, the largest pathway is Design, Visual and Media Arts (DVMA) and, during the summer of 2021, LAUSD CTE administrators partnered with AME industry partners to find ways to inspire DVMA students, support program completion rates, and provide exposure to professional technology.  

The working group was primarily with AIGA-LA, a graphic design professional organization led by their former president Samantha Cabrera. Dr. Amarpal Khanna, who is both a member of AIGA-LA and a professor at LA City College, Nickelodeon Community Efforts (“NiCE”) represented by Carson Smith, and Darian Gonzalez-Kessler, who provided critical feedback. In order to achieve their goals and also stress the importance of design principles and inspire students to create, the group decided to provide professional drawing tablets through the K12 Strong Workforce Program (SWP).  

Together, the group strategized a plan to get Wacom tablets into the hands of students, create professional development series with teachers to get them comfortable working with the tablets, and finally to discover talented students to engage with our industry partners. The rollout found 53 LAUSD teachers who were interested in incorporating the use of the Wacom tablets into their classrooms, receive professional development training in using the product, and build fluency in various software that would benefit from the tablets.  

K12 SWP funds were used to not only purchase the tablets for the pathways, but also to provide the 53 teachers professional development in learning how to use the tablets and in addition to giving students opportunities to visit LA City College and learn more about the various design careers available to them. Although there were challenges along the way, the project ultimately led to the creation of the 2023-24 LA Unified X NiCE Internship program as talented students were identified thanks to their work on the new tablets.  

This year, 12 hard-working students from various backgrounds, schools and CTE pathways were invited to be a part of the initiating internship cohort labeled, “The Dozen” which is led by artists Kyle Neswald (Big Nate, The Powerpuff Girls, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!) and Kristin Donner (The Fungies, The Fairly OddParents). “The Dozen” are tasked with developing a Nickelodeon branded show that they will run through a team of producer-mentors at Nickelodeon. At the end of the internship, the cohort will show a trailer of their show idea to the producers and receive feedback on their yearlong project. 

Thanks to SWP and industry partners, LAUSD’s Career Technical Education Work-based Learning, led by Michelle Elias, now has a growing internship program that includes dynamic organizations such as Women In Animation, BAFTA, Girls Make Beats and Creating Creators. By providing opportunities to engage with the latest technology and industry professionals, students and teachers are motivated to take advantage of these opportunities and technologies, in addition to gaining the skills and confidence to envision themselves as a part of the design community.