Everett Collection
Jake Perlman
November 08, 2013 AT 12:00 PM EST

Though they may live in Los Angeles, many high school kids in Southern California still don’t believe in their Hollywood dreams. To promote better understanding of the movie industry for the youth who live in the middle of it, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences started the Media Literacy Program about 18 years ago. This year, the program honored the 25th Anniversary of the film Stand and Deliver starring Edward James Olmos and Lou Diamond Phillips, which tells the true story of math teacher Jaimie Escalante who inspired his students at an East L.A. high school in the early 1980s.  Some of the cast and crew got together today to celebrate the film’s legacy, and its message about the importance of education, with a group of LA high school juniors.

“You can do whatever you want.” Lydia Nicole, who played illegal immigrant student Rafaela Fuentes in the film, told the students. “There will be obstacles but you can be wherever you want to be.”

The program consists of three days of activities for the high schoolers, including film clip analysis, group discussions, a screening of the film and a Q&A with the cast. Students are picked from their English and Film classes by submitting a written assignment. “There’s a whole level of visual communication that isn’t as well taught,” said Randy Haberkamp, the Academy’s Managing Director of Programming, Education and and Preservation. “[Students] are really not taught about the thing that they probably consume the most, and that’s movies, television, and the internet.” For example, Haderkamp showed students the type of original film strip that was used to create the movie in 1988 and then restored for the screening. The preserved film will soon be housed in the Academy’s new museum, with the hopes that a new space can create more educational opportunities like this for the future. Films that are selected for the program challenge teen stereotypes in film, both positively and negatively. Past movies have included Juno, Thirteen and Napoleon Dynamite.

Stand and Deliver tells the story of Jaimie Escalante, who started teaching AP Calculus at Garfield High School in East LA, a place where low expectations and failure were expected. Through his creative style of teaching and connecting with his students, Escalante was successful until one of his classes was accused of cheating. Escalante believed it was because all of his students were Hispanic . Will Gotay, who played Pancho in the film, discussed a real-life experience of his own that paralleled the movie. Gotay was accused of cheating on an entrance exam for the Culinary Institute of America because, he said, “I was probably the darkest person to ever apply to the CIA at that point.” Gotay, like the students in the film, retook the exam and still passed. He is now an Executive Chef for St. Jude’s Research Hospital.

Lou Diamond Phillips, who received a Golden Globe nomination for his role as reformed bad guy Angel, said the film’s message about the importance of education still resonates. “Over the years, so many teachers have come up and thanked me for this film,” Phillips tells EW. “That means a lot because teachers really are the unsung heroes of our society.” The Media Literacy Program is critical, he says, especially in a city as racially diverse as Los Angeles. “One thing that Stand and Deliver shows is that you don’t have to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed to be successful,” he says. “This was a tiny little film, telling something that was truly from the heart, made by a lot of people at the time who were not superstars. Some of us still aren’t.”

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