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‘To The Letter’ Highlights Challenges Unhoused Kids Face Learning to Read

Non-profit School on Wheels releases new animated short, created by the CBS Leadership Pipeline Challenge, to support ABC Literacy Program that helps unhoused K-3 students catch up in literacy and develop a love of reading.

School on Wheels has just shared a new animated short, To The Letter, created by participants of the CBS Leadership Pipeline Challenge. A non-profit dedicated to supporting better education for homeless students, School on Wheels collaborated with the CBS program to create the short about the challenges experienced by a young, unhoused student as she tries learning to read.

The CBS Leadership Pipeline Challenge is a social impact-focused short film competition aimed at empowering assistants to step into creative leadership positions.  Junior-level employees within CBS Studios and CBS joined forces with early-career storytellers nominated by Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, and Casting Society Cares Training & Education to create three short films that align with the missions of local nonprofits School on Wheels, SafeBAE, and Homeboy Industries to increase awareness for and win donations towards the nonprofits.  

In the film, letters and words escape a young, unhoused student, struggling with the cloudy darkness of her frustration, until her tutor breaks through and braves the storm with her. The film is inspired by the School on Wheels ABC Literacy Program, which helps unhoused students in kindergarten through third grade catch up to their grade level in literacy and develop a love of reading.

Take a few minutes to enjoy this poignant new film:

To the Letter features original music composed by Dhruv Goel, using the soundscape of Skid Row. “It's a sound and feeling you can't design,” said Goel. “With the help of community leaders, we were able to access the Union Rescue Mission, where we recorded various sounds and textures while observing young children living and playing in the environment. Their innocence juxtaposed with their reality was a rhythm that I needed to witness to do justice for this story."

Nirav Bhakta, the short’s director, noted that "one out of 20 children in Los Angeles are unhoused. With the children nine times likely to fail a grade and four times likely to drop out, the educational and mentorship programs offered at School on Wheels are integral in helping to break the cycle of homelessness. With a team of eight animators across the world, we were able to come together virtually amidst the racial, political and health pandemics in our world and create a story with passion and social impact to honor the students of School on Wheels."

“School on Wheels was thrilled to be chosen as a participant in the CBS Leadership Pipeline Challenge,” said Sinead Chilton, Chief Development & Marketing Officer of School on Wheels. “Everyone involved has been so invested in telling the story of our students and helping to promote the work we do with children experiencing homelessness. We were moved by the idea of telling the story of a student struggling to read through the power of animation as it could lift our kids out of Skid Row, and literally, the sky was the limit!”

To the Letter is written and directed by Bhakta, casted by Maddalena Zuppetta, co-written by David Aguilar, composed by Dhruv Goel, edited by Mario Torres Torres, and produced by Lauren Robinson, Rachel Hanley, and Bhavani Rao. Maya Alvarez serves as the executive producer. The film is animated by Carlos Velez, Megan Lucas, Chris Culpepper, Nguyet Nghi Duong, Rakshit Srivastava, and Chantal Paz. The animation team is led by award-winning animator and VFX artist Chun Chun Chang.

To learn more about School on Wheels, visit schoolonwheels.org.

Source: CBS Studios

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.

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