When Cynthia Gallardo was seven, the police banged on her door and arrested her dad in the middle of the night. She’s moved from home to home, watching in fear as her mother gets beaten by her boyfriend. Gallardo got pregnant at 16, but she stayed in school.
“I want better for myself,” she says. “I wanted better for my daughter, so I pushed myself.”
Gallardo’s story is featured in a video by Undroppable, a social media campaign to help prevent high schoolers from dropping out. Students share stories of their hardships, from poverty to pregnancy, and end each video by saying, “I am undroppable.” These videos will be featured in a 2014 documentary called Undroppable.
After Justin Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun signed on as an Undroppable producer, Bieber himself tweeted Gallardo’s video and drove a whopping 75,000 views to it. Anchorman director Adam McKay has also joined the project. Undroppable has been featured in Time magazine, and creator Jason Pollock was invited by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on his Back-to-School Bus Tour last year.
In the beginning, Pollock partnered with Get Schooled and brought his video camera to six schools last April. Many of these schools were in troubled communities, marred by crime and poverty and the bad reputation of high dropout rates. Pollock sat down with each student for 30 minutes, recording their story on video.
Once a stranger to social media, Pollock taught himself the ropes to promote his first film, The Youngest Candidate. Soon, he found himself with tens of thousands of followers and working for Rock the Vote, the Oprah Show, and Ashton Kutcher.
He likens Undroppable to the “It Gets Better” campaign that gives hope to LGBT youth. Three words – “I am undroppable” – say so much. They help students cultivate a confidence they probably don’t have – the certainty that they’ll persevere, the sheer impossibility that they will drop out. They sound like “I am unstoppable.”
And hearing those words in the kids’ voices is worth so much more than any marketing campaign that any corporation could dream up.
“We rarely give these kids the mic. They’re amazing. And they never get any respect,” says Pollock. “A kid that might be thinking about dropping out doesn’t want to listen to their parents and doesn’t want to listen to their teachers or their principal, but they might want to listen to their friend and their peer.”
In the past year and a half, Undroppable has spread to 18 schools around the country. Pollock doesn’t do all the videotaping anymore; instead, he sends them curriculum on how to make videos and spread them on social media. And the initial results are promising: in Schenectady, where Pollock gave a Drake-inspired graduation speech, the dropout rate went down 26 percent this year. At Joplin High School, it went down by around 16 percent.
Fewer dropouts – and all the trickle-down effects that follow – are something that almost everyone can get behind.
“Education is the silver bullet,” says Pollock. “If we fix our education system, if we fix our dropout rate, we’re going to fix all these other issues. . . . We’ll see a better environment if we’re making smarter people; we’ll see less wars if we’re making smarter people; we’ll see healthier food if we’re making smarter people. But at the end of the day, if we’re failing students and our youth, we’re never going to really get ahead.”