By Cait Etherington March 25, 2017
In the past, child actors often faced uncertain futures, since many of these actors grew up with only limited access to education. Over the past century, at least some jurisdictions, including New York State and California, which are also industry centers, have introduced laws to ensure that child entertainers are no longer left behind when it comes to education. Indeed, both jurisdictions have strict laws regulating the continued schooling options for child actors. For example, child actors must have an opportunity to either attend a public or private school or have an on-set tutor. They also cannot be asked to work outside strictly regulated hours, even on weekends and holidays. While some young actors now continue to attend traditional schools (on the agreement that they will need to frequently miss school for work), there is growing evidence that child actors benefit from eLearning opportunities. This is precisely why a growing number of agents, studios and parents of child actors are embracing online learning, including virtual schools, as a more sustainable and enriching way to ensure their children receive a rigorous and age-appropriate education throughout their careers.
Historically, less stringent regulations meant that child entertainers (at least in some jurisdictions) were often forced to work long hours, without appropriate supervision from a parent or guardian, and without access to adequate schooling. Even in industry centers, such as Los Angeles and New York city where child actors have been protected by robust state-based and local laws for many decades now, child actors and their parents often faced extremely difficult decisions when it came to schooling.
On the one hand, they could choose to stay enrolled in a regular public or private school, but this would often mean missing large parts of the semester and in most public school boards, negotiating with local schools about how much time could reasonably be missed. A vice-principal of a public middle school school in Manhattan offered eLearning Inside News a candid insight into just some of the problems she faces when child actors enroll: “Don’t get me wrong, I love those kids, but it’s not easy. Until last year, I had one very well known young actress enrolled full-time, but every year, she was out for anywhere from three to four months. It’s difficult for the teachers, for the administration team, but also for the kid and her or his friends. In the NYC DOE, you can’t miss more than 10 days without some sort of penalty. We have to make concessions for the entertainers, but this is difficult when we’re penalizing other kids who miss days due to illness or simply because their parents are in crisis and they can’t get to school.”
Given the complexity of staying enrolled in a regular public or private school, it is not surprising that traditionally many child actors opted to learn on set or through correspondence. However, both of these more flexible approaches also had limitations. While tutors are rarely able to travel with child actors from set to set, traditional correspondence courses were often low in both engagement and rigor. With eLearning, child actors now have more options and more options that offer them many of the benefits of traditional classrooms.
Child actors benefit from eLearning opportunities on at least three key levels. First, with eLearning, young actors can work with the same teachers and classmates whether they are on Broadway or shooting a film in Texas and Taiwan. The classroom travels with them and so do their instructors. This added consistency is critical, since it means that child actors can stay on track wherever their work takes them. In addition, child actors benefit from eLearning opportunities that increasingly resemble traditional classrooms and schools. At least some online schools offer a virtual homeroom, the chance to work on collaborative projects with other students, and even opportunities to engage in extra-curriculum activities, such as student council. Finally, with eLearning’s heightened capacity to offer students ongoing progress reports (in short, to track their learning as they go), eLearning has the potential to bring clarity into a child actor’s otherwise hectic schedule.