Tutors help actor, ill to recoup lost hours

In 8th grade Jonny Ahdout ’07 had both good news and bad news for his deans Nancy Jeon and Paul Mastin. The good news? He had just been cast in a lead role in an upcoming film, “House of Sand and Fog” opposite Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly. The bad news? He would have to miss 30 days of school in the next three months.

Caught by surprise, his deans weren’t sure what to do. Few students ever miss that much school in such a short period of time, but Ahdout, like other ambitious students attempting professional acting careers, was forced to figure out how he would keep up with his schoolwork and continue his outside job.

After Ahdout got the part, he needed to start work immediately and had no time to plan how he was going to deal with his schoolwork; “It was a day-by-day type thing,” Ahdout said.
Throughout the course of filming he remained in contact with his teachers and friends, receiving notes on a daily basis. Ahdout also taught himself some of the material out of his textbooks. He repeated the process two years later when he had a recurring role on the television program “24.”

“If a student is going to want to miss school or have to miss school it’s going to be extremely difficult because the student is going to have to make up the work they missed,” Dean Jim Patterson said.
“In the end it worked out fine,” Ahdout said. “My grades if anything went up just because I was under more pressure and had to work harder.”

If a student misses school because of a long-term illness, Patterson said that the same measures will be taken.

Adam Strick ’08 missed most of 9th grade due to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, with which he was diagnosed right before the school year started. He began missing school long before then when he realized his immune system was weak in 7th grade. Strick ended up coming to school when he was physically fit to do so, but he mainly received work to do at home and used tutors to help him keep up. In 9th grade he also only took the essential courses. Strick returned to school full time in sophomore year.

“It took some catching up and I was lacking in organizational skills,” he said. “I appreciated all of the help of the school, though.”

Patterson said that what is to be done for each student is determined by the specifics of that student’s situation. Because Ahdout was acting, he was required to spend three hours on set in tutoring before he went to work.

Ahdout becomes indignant when discussing schooling in the entertainment industry.
“All the tutors did was basically sit there and watch me while I did my work,” he said.

Kate Siegel, who would have graduated this year, decided to withdraw from Harvard-Westlake after the first month of her senior year. Siegel has been working to develop her musical “Getting In,” originally produced at the One-Acts Festival when she was a sophomore.

“I really needed to be working a majority of the day,” she said. “Before, I was never going to consider leaving school.”

Laurel Springs, a homeschooling program, is accredited by WASC, the same agency that accredits Harvard-Westlake. Therefore, the school recommended Laurel Springs because it had the same qualifications.

Siegel eventually decided she was unable to continue attending Harvard-Westlake even in an altered fashion and is finishing her senior year at Laurel Springs.

“It didn’t work,” Salamandra said regarding Siegel. “She tried a way of doing it. It seemed to work for a while, but then it got to the point where it really wasn’t working.”

“We’re not in a position to accommodate all requests,” Salamandra said.

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