School Kid Chronicles: yearbooks of the future

by Lee Adams

Dustin Keene began his acting career when he and his mother, Rhonda Powers, began flipping through the Yellow Pages. He ended up at the Actor’s Workshop in Kernersville under the direction of Marilyn Allen, who pulled Keene aside to tell him he had real talent. She began tutoring him and as Keene developed his skills he also began making new acquaintances, like Sam Grogg, formerly at the North Carolina School of the Arts and now dean of the American Film Institute in California.

Keene also met Matt McNeil, a former School of the Arts graduate who now runs his own production business working for clients like Dreamworks, and David Cook, also from the School of the Arts, who works closely with producer James Cameron.

While working with the Actor’s Workshop, Keene began acting in independent films his friends made as part of their studies.

‘“You’ve got a better chance of being struck by lightning than making it as an actor,’” Keene says during an interview at the Friendly Center’s Caribou Coffee. And so Keene moved back to his hometown of Greensboro after trying it out in Florida for a while.

And here, after being onstage and in front of the camera for 10 years, Keene has stepped behind the camera to focus on making school children the stars. Keene, whose career includes working on ‘“Dawson’s Creek’” and as a promoter for Nokia on the Home Shopping Network, wanted a job that would inspire others and help regain the lost art of storytelling.

The film industry in the Triad is growing, Keene says, and with today’s technology, location is not as crucial as it used to be for an actor. And Greensboro being his hometown, Keene had a heart for using his talents to help others in the place he grew up.

His mother was the one that came up with the entrepreneurial idea to help him accomplish his goals, once again leading him in the right direction career-wise. That idea was School Kid Chronicles. Simply put, School Kid Chronicles is a yearly five-minute video of each school-age child, done similarly to school photographs, but including questions regarding career interests, what they like and dislike about school, and even basic things like favorite colors or foods.

Powers teamed up with her son, helping fund the equipment necessary to run a successful video operation, and supplying him with ideas and insight. In turn he made her co-producer, as she would be helping research the necessary questions to ask.

Powers had previously worked as an insurance agent, helping schoolteachers plan for their futures, and in doing so heard countless tales of classroom experiences. Remembering how her own son learned best by audible means she realized that different students have different methods of learning, and that by chronicling the questions and concerns of students via video teachers could know which methods would best help which students. Some learn best audibly, like Keene, while some learn best by visionary or kinetic means. Powers realized the chronicles could be tools to help teachers determine how to most effectively teach individual students.

And the idea grew. It’s a way for a parent to watch a child grow over the years. It could be a useful resource for helping law enforcement investigate missing children cases. It could be an up-to-date, professional video for news stations to use to spread the word if a child is missing. It could be an online school yearbook. The possibilities are endless.

With those ideas in mind Keene and Powers approached teachers, psychologists and law enforcement agencies, teaming up with members of each field to help them come up with the most appropriate and effective questions to ask children.

Keene called all of his old buddies ‘— Grogg, McNeil and Cook ‘— and solicited their help in the technicalities of film producing, from equipment to lighting to final production.

After a year of hard work and planning and documenting a few children on video, Keene and Powers are now ready to take it to the next level. They are currently working on an agreement with Oak Ridge Military Academy to use them as a pilot school to launch the new venture. They hope to soon begin developing contracts with other schools in the Triad, and they plan on making their finished product affordable to all students ‘— often for less than what it would cost for school photos. The finished product will be professionally produced, packaged and updateable from year to year.

They also plan on a walk-in studio to accommodate homeschoolers and individuals whose schools may not provide the service.

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