Project Seven, Oakland Tech & Claremont Middle School

Phew, what a day! An amazing day. I’ve just spent the morning visiting two schools in Oakland to learn more about Project Seven and their digital media programs.

Project Seven‘s mission is to develop and facilitate a professional digital media program for Oakland middle school and high school students so that when they graduate, students will be at a level of proficiency to acquire entry level careers in the digital media and technology industry. Why “Seven”? For the 7 years of continuous instruction kids will receive if they go through the entire program (i.e. 3 years in middle school and 4 years in high school = 7).

Project Seven has not only written their own curriculum focusing on 3D modeling and animation, but also created classrooms out of leaky, long-forgotten storage rooms; refurbished equipment; won grants for hardware; invented their own method of computer securing (that takes 20 minutes to remove a computer from a desk– exactly the time needed for Oakland and School District police to respond to building alarms); and created 100+ YouTube tutorials for students to learn the software and concepts. All this while teaching nearly 1,000 student animation and 3D modeling skills. And get this– there are just  3 incredibly dedicated individuals leading this work, with the support of many parent volunteers. Mike, Peter, and Crystal are doing great and very important work. This certainly isn’t the last time I hope to see them and their equally passionate students in action.

claremeont classroom whole

Claremont Middle School is a middle school in Oakland with roughly 500 students. It’s pretty well-known in Oakland and one reason is because there are two principals– Mr. Richardson and Mr. Richardson who are identical twin brothers (learn more about that in this CBS article where my swim coach and Claremont Science teacher, Ian Lesser, cameos!).

Claremont is where Project Seven got started and 7 years on, great things are happening. Crystal Eastman is the awesome digital media teacher for the 125 Claremont students who have filled her 5 class periods. As you can see from the photos, the kids in her classes are totally engaged. If you ask any of these kids what their favorite class is, they’ll likely respond with “Animation!”

claremont close up

When I visited Crystal’s classroom this morning. the class was learning about photorealism. They were looking at images and trying to decide if they were photos or very well-done 3D illustrations. They were then going to learn how to make textures in Photoshop and then use Maya for the 3D modeling. In case you haven’t spent much time in a middle school, students this age are a handful, which is why I bow down to middle school teachers (and Kindergarten teachers, too!). But Crystal’s kids were a breeze– they were so engaged and excited about their class and what they were learning. It was a pleasure to be in her classroom and I hope to see more of their great work in the future!


Oakland Technical High School has one of the most glamorous school buildings I’ve ever seen and is one of the jewels of Oakland Unified School District. According to Wikipedia, it was built to resemble the main science building at MIT. Also according to Wikipedia, some of the notable alumni of Tech include: Frank Oz (puppeteer and artist), Huey P. Newton (co-founder of the Black Panthers), Patricia Polacco (children’s book author), Clint Eastwood (actor, director, producer), the Pointer Sisters, and numerous professional athletes.


Peter Heckel has been involved with Project Seven since it’s inception and is the chief curriculum writer. He has recorded over 100 video tutorials on YouTube for his students to use. He has recruited a number of students to act as teacher’s assistants in the animation classes. Between the differentiated support his video tutorials offer, his engaging subject matter, and the plethora of ways students can get help, it’s no surprise that his classroom is a bastion of calm, focused energy. His kids are totally engrossed in the work they’re doing. I can’t wait to come back when they’re using Photoshop and Flash in a few weeks!


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