WESLEY CHAPEL — Drama teacher Margaret Peacock hadn't had much time to think about the contest flier that her principal had just handed her when 16-year-old Caleb Oosterling popped into her classroom at Wiregrass Ranch High.
It was one of those serendipitous moments that had Peacock handing it off to him at once and thinking, "Why, of course!"
Really, who better to give the opportunity to enter a video contest touting the benefits of public school than a kid who was already wild for the art of filmmaking and had a bunch of musical talent under his belt, too? Add to that the educational experience he had as both a private and public school student.
"Handing him that flier was literally the extent of my involvement in it," Peacock said. "Well, I did put it in the mail."
Caleb, who had played around some with stop-motion animation and had produced a few film shorts, got right to work, finishing the video in three weeks' time to meet the contest deadline. In May his entry was honored as first-place winner in the Florida School Board Association's "What's Super About Public Schools" video contest, earning the school a $5,000 award.
Not a surprise, Peacock said.
"I knew that it was going to place just because it charmed me," she said. "I knew it was really good — the creativity, the directing was so professional. He did everything and he got the talent on board."
Talent like high school senior John Lester, 18, who starts his answer to the question "What's super about public school?" by crooning, "You're stuck in high school, you think it's sad, but look around you, it's not all that bad."
"I started off by taking a piece I had been composing and I put words to it," said Caleb, a violinist in the school's orchestra program. He then recruited three fellow cast members from last year's production of Guys and Dolls to act and sing, using a Canon Rebel T2i to shoot roughly two hours of video that was whittled down to the three-minute requirement.
"I just compared it to my own experiences of private school," Caleb said of the writing process for his song and script. "I went to private school for three years and I've been in public school for five years, so I knew the differences; the constrictions of things like school uniforms and closed-toe shoes; the fact the public schools usually have more clubs; and the (public school) teachers all have to have college degrees. There are still things I liked about private school — that it's small and everyone knows each other — but there's things I wouldn't have been able to do there, like drama and playing in the orchestra."
"It was a really great experience," said John, who sings lead on Caleb's upbeat tune that's meant to persuade a classmate, played by Daniel Marti III, 16, not to switch from public to private school. "When Caleb came to me with the idea, I knew it was really going to be something. He was professional about the whole thing, and I got excited about being a part of it. Any time he has a video to do, I'm on board."
So is Samuel Ryan, 15, a drummer in the school band who joins Caleb in the bouncy back-up chorus lauding some of the benefits of public schools.
"I've worked with Caleb in small videos but nothing this big," Samuel said. "In the end it came out to be something amazing."
It was, but that's not the end of this story.
The school used part of the $5,000 award to send Caleb to the Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg, further fueling his passion to follow in the footsteps of his favorite film and television directors Christopher Nolan (Memento/The Dark Knight Rises) and J.J. Abrams (Star Trek/Lost). First stop after graduation in 2015, Caleb said, is a hopeful run in the prestigious film program at Florida State University.
And because of Caleb, other students might get some help.
At the suggestion of principal Ray Bonti, the rest of the funds will be used to provide college scholarships for Wiregrass Ranch High seniors planning on pursuing an education in the arts.
"We have so many performing arts students and there are not a lot of mechanisms for them to have scholarships," Bonti said. "Our kids brought this money in and it seemed the right thing to do to put it back in the hands of our kids."