Editor's Note: Redwood City is who generously donate their time for worthy causes. Each week, Redwood City Patch will profile a resident who is giving back to our community.
Brandon Middleton doesn’t consider himself a professional filmmaker. But to the 18 students he inspired to shoot and edit the raw emotions of life, he’s nothing short of Steven Spielberg.
Middleton is a volunteer with Citizen Schools, an organization that places students in apprenticeships with volunteers who have a certain expertise.
“It’s been done for me,” Middleton said. “I had great role models and mentors and it’s only right I do the same.”
From the laws of government to the laws of science, teachers at Citizen Schools are able to teach anything they have a particular knowledge. For Middleton, that was documentary filmmaking.
Middleton first heard of Citizens Schools when a colleague at Cisco Systems, where Middleton is a systems engineer, asked him to consider the program.
“Some companies you kind of have to sneak out to do good but Cisco is different,” Middleton said.
For 12 weeks, the students of , along with Middleton, studied everything from the jargon used in filmmaking, the tips of interviewing subjects, storyboarding and editing film.
“They actually taught me a couple of things too,” he said.
The group of 18 was split into two groups, one half led by his co-teacher and the other by himself.
One portion of the class took on the subject of food politics.
“It was about bringing awareness of how the food we eat gets to our plate,” Middleton said.
Middleton’s group took on the complex subject of profiling.
“I think it helps to process the way people act in general,” Middleton said. “If you broaden your lens and understand people grew up with different backgrounds in different neighborhoods you can understand them better.”
Middleton said the students gained a perspective on people that may be judged solely on their outward appearance.
“The footage that we recorded was from all different kinds of kids,” he said.
Middleton would throw out adjectives to the students and see what kind of person they would envision based on those characteristics.
Middleton said he was surprised how quickly and reflective students became while tackling such a complicated topic.
“The kids had this capacity to take on this information and speak intelligently and think intelligently about it,” he said.
He advised that teachers in the education system should not deny these topics or constrain curriculum because they fear the students cannot handle the subject matter.
“They show you how smart they are,” Middleton said. “They should allow them to fully blossom.”
The Citizen Teacher said the students left his class with a better understanding of humans and how negative and positive affects of society can impact their reaction to others.
“For example, a young Latino who shies away from a police car that drove by because he watched his father be harassed by cops in the past,” he said. “Whereas before I might think that’s strange, this just broadens their understanding and that this is a complex issue.”
Middleton said the success of his first class has led him wanting to give back more.
“I’m definitely going back to teach the film program,” he said. “We went and we tested the waters.”
Middleton is one of many Redwood City locals who give their time to make a positive impact in their community by becoming a teacher at Citizen Schools. This conscious effort, said Managing Program Director of Citizen Schools Katie Brown, will not soon be forgotten by local youth.
"Our volunteers, like Brandon, make the students’ school day learning relevant by connecting academic content to real world applications," Brown said. "Citizen Schools' apprentices look forward to seeing volunteers like Brandon every week because they bring energy, enthusiasm, and creativity to their work in the classroom."
Middleton said he felt that just because the class was dismissed doesn’t mean his students will stop questioning the origins of profiling.
“The questions that the kids came up with, once answered,” he said. “Would open up a big question mark.”