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July 15th, 2016
New York based Mill ECD Ben Smith recently enlisted the help of artists and filmmakers to create a fundraising film that lies close to his heart. The film aims to raise awareness and funding for the Aozora Gakuen ‘Blue Skies School’ - the only bilingual preschool teaching Japanese and English in Brooklyn.  The school faces an uncertain future requiring some serious funding in order to relocate, or face closure. 

Founded in 2012 by three mothers who sought out a preschool that would provide quality education rooted in Japanese values, the school is currently looking to expand and they are in need of a new home. The 60 families Aozora caters to alongside the local community and teaching staff have started a crowdfunding page for their new space.

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Ben Smith discusses the importance of this cause to his family and the families of Fort Greene, Brooklyn:

Our son has been attending Aozora Gakuen for the past two years; this will be his last year. Miho, who founded the school, and has become a close friend of ours, asked if we could help raise funds to help save the school, so of course we, along with other families and the community, rallied behind Miho and decided to help spread the word.

We wanted to make a film that not only explains why this cause needs support, but also to provide an insight into how impactful this preschool has become for the Japanese- American community in Brooklyn. Aozora Gauken teaches children in Japanese for the majority of the time while setting aside one day to teach them in English. It is extremely important for the parents to have their kids be bi-lingual, while passing on Japanese values and culture.

It brings the best of both worlds together, combining the individuality and innovation aspect of the American culture, along with the community sense and respect awareness that Japanese culture provides.
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We had a great network of artists both here at The Mill and externally, who rallied behind the project to help us bring the film to life. Special thanks to Michael Girandola for all the behind the camera work, Fergus McCall who graded the film here at The Mill, Tetsuro Mise who came up with a graphic language for the titles and logo and fellow parent Akiko Iwakawa-Grieve who is a fantastic editor at Cut & Run.

It is important to remember that this isn’t just about a preschool, it’s about the lasting impact this school has and will continue to have in the community.” 

Watch the full fundraising film below. Help save Aozora Gakuen, with your help this pre-school can continue to stay open, have the opportunity to grow and remain a cornerstone of Japanese-American teaching within Brooklyn by donating here