“Welcome to the best four years of your life,” a voice says over the intercom outside of Roosevelt High School.
The voice belongs to Mr. Gertner, the high school’s principal, who proudly greets new students right as a girl steps into the nearly 100-year-old campus.
The girl’s name is Nayelli, and she has arrived at her first day of high school. Her mom has driven her through Roosevelt’s Boyle Heights home, past historical and cultural neighborhood symbols like Mariachi Plaza and El Mercado.
Nayelli’s mother has made sure she is pumped up with school spirit: rapper DMX’s 90s hit “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem” is blasting on the car stereo, a nod to the Roosevelt mascot, the Rough Riders.
If you didn’t know it, this is what it’s actually like to go to Roosevelt High School. It is one of the oldest and most emblematic schools on L.A.’s Eastside, and it is nearly 100 percent Latino.
Although it was once identified as one of the key sources of activism at the dawn of the Chicano Movement, Roosevelt High School and many other inner-city schools like it later became synonymous with gangs, overcrowding, and disenfranchisement.
Now, a Hollywood entertainment marketer is helping Roosevelt and other schools change old stereotypes. Roosevelt’s video was created by Jorge Nuño’s full-service entertainment and marketing company, NTS Communications, in hopes of attracting more students to LAUSD high school campuses.
The Los Angeles School District faces a continuing decline in enrollment as a result of the rise of charter schools and other factors including gentrification and declining birth rates. On top of decreasing enrollment numbers, a strategy implemented by the LAUSD has changed how students pick schools, giving them choices beyond their designated public high school. The “Zones of Choice” allows students to pick a school within designated geographic areas instead of having to go to a school based on their address.
As a result, schools like Roosevelt don’t automatically have students attend like they used to.
“It puts us in a position where we do have to tell our own story,” Ben Gertner, principal at Roosevelt, told L.A. Taco in an interview.
Mr. Gertner says he finds the Zones of Choice an empowering process for students and families, because they get to choose the right school for them. But the fact that there are more choices for students out there has made him prioritize marketing and recruitment efforts, which are paid for by the school. Mr. Gertner started working with NTS Communications about three years ago to market Roosevelt’s unique program and features.
While the LAUSD may have a stereotypical reputation of low standardized test scores, overcrowding and a lack of resources, Nuño is focusing on individual schools and what they have to offer.
“Well, of course, you can’t promote LAUSD because they have a bad rep,” Nuño said. “But [we can] promote your school, as an individual brand, as an entity about things that you’re doing, so that’s what we do.”
‘At the end of the day it’s really about the students’
Nuño first began working with Santee Education Complex in 2014, a school in South Central Los Angeles with a history of riots and academic challenges.
“We did a whole comprehensive strategy to really get the word out about the things that are going on,” Nuño said. “Just really bury all that bad news with the good news that’s going on by telling stories of our students.“
Now Santee has banners on its social media pages with images of star athletes posing that look like something out of a Nike ad. Videos on their Facebook page highlight the school’s fashion, theatre, cooking, science and fashion classes, and shows students talking about why they chose Santee as their high school.
Nuño has found that the best selling points come from students. He is now working with more than 30 public schools.
“At the end of the day it’s really about the students,” he said. “We’re all there because of the students, so I think many of the public schools never really took the opportunity to tell the story from the student perspective.”
Mr. Lopez, a social studies teacher at Roosevelt High School, brought students and parents together to tell Roosevelt’s story. Students brainstormed ideas of what to include in the video —everything from the music to what classes and activities to feature.
In Roosevelt’s video, we see classes like Ethnic Studies take center stage.
“Our school is unique in the way that we’ve been kind of trailblazing and doing this work for a couple of years already,” Mr. Lopez said. “It’s something that is very unique to our school.”
When Mr. Lopez began teaching 16 years ago, Roosevelt High had around 5,000 students. Now he says there are roughly 1,200 students. Mr. Gertner said that he wanted people to know that Roosevelt is no longer the crowded school it was known as ten years. Students get more attention now and there is more space on the campus.
While the video is being advertised to incoming high school freshmen, it struck a chord with current students and alumni. Since it when live on social media, it has gotten more than 100,000 views, a thousand shares and hundreds of comments. “As alumni, makes me so happy to see young students proud of who they are,” state Assembly member Wendy Carrillo commented on the video on Facebook.
“It was so powerful,” Mr. Lopez said. “The culture is coming out and then the students are really excited and they are happy … it kind of struck something emotional.”
The video has become not only a marketing tool but a source of pride for the school.
“I feel very proud to be in the video,” Nayelli, the girl you see walking towards her first day at Roosevelt, said in an interview. “As a senior, I’ve been here for years and when I leave, I want a little piece of me to stay here in Roosevelt.”