Freestyle Lifestyle


Courtesy Freestyle Academy

By Marie Godderis, Staff Writer

Hannah Hershfeldt — Junior, FILM

Hannah Hershfeldt, a junior at Los Altos High School taking Freestyle, was in awe with the opportunity of an extensive arts program like Freestyle compared to having a single elective art class at her old high school.

Students in Film focus on major long-term projects throughout the year where they are able to collaborate in groups. They learn the fundamental skills of working a camera and create documentaries, narratives, and experimental films. The class watches professional films in order to learn more about each genre and learn about different camera angles and audio recording techniques.

Hannah has wanted to be part of the film industry since seventh grade. In Freestyle, she has improved a fundamental skill: the ability to trust others and their abilities. Film requires a lot of collaborative skills in group projects, and it was difficult for Hannah to learn to let others lead. Additionally, constantly sharing work and reaching out to professionals for help has helped with the development of communicative skills as well.

Hannah’s favorite project in her film class was the narrative unit. She was able to expand her storytelling skills by applying visuals and creating storyboards for the project. Hannah’s narrative film, Shaken, was showcased at the Century Cinema 16 theater as well as the Freestyle exhibition at the Computer History Museum this past February and March.

“The narrative was my favorite unit because it was a language I understood while watching movies my entire life,” Hanah said. “It was also a project I was more passionate about and put more time into, so I felt more accomplished with the end product.”

The film class allows students to learn not only camera work, editing and storytelling, but the industry. Students learn how to shoot every aspect of pre-production, production and postproduction in order to successfully prepare for the real film industry.

“Freestyle is a completely different climate and a break from your day,” Hannah said. “I am able to leave my AP Biology and the stressful STEM world and drive over to Mountain View. There I have a completely different friend group and different expectations for myself. I’m less worried about my grades and focus more on my own development. It’s a much better feeling when I accomplish things at Freestyle.”

Sydney Johnsen – Junior, DESIGN

Sydney knew Freestyle was for her due to her creatively driven mindset and longing for more creative activities during her school day. Freestyle allows her to spend half of her days doing what she is passionate about, while also balancing work in other core classes at Los Altos.

The design class consists of mostly individual digital assignments. Students work on illustrating digital drawing pads, learn about color theory and digital photography. Projects correspond with their digital media and English class as well.

Sydney has been working on the photo documentary project, where she is designing and writing a book about body image. Although she claims that it has been a stressful and rigorous project, Sydney’s passion for art and design drives her to continue working hard. Sydney hopes to apply her skills learned in Freestyle and become a graphic designer later in life.

“All the teachers really care about you, which helps with learning a lot of cool stuff that you wouldn’t normally learn at school,” Sydney said. “Everybody is really passionate about art and not necessarily the same thing, but everybody supports each other and wants the best for each other and helps each other. We all grow as artists and it feels like everyone is part of a family there.”

Ilsa Askren – Junior, ANIMATION

Emma Askren ‘18, Ilsa’s older sister, was in Freestyle. As a freshman and sophomore at Los Altos, Ilsa had been exposed to some of her sister’s work. Ilsa said that she has always actively done best on assignments that include creative drawing, writing, or art, which made her discover an opportunity for her own future and artistic growth and applied for Freestyle.

Animation allows students to independently learn digital animation techniques and how to create storyboards on digital platforms. Assignments in animation are project-based, with far-out due dates set in order to complete the entire production.

In animation, Ilsa is able to learn diverse concepts, styles, and types of animating. “It is always very eye-opening because there are so many techniques and creative ways to animate that I didn’t even realize could be achieved,” Ilsa said.“Animating takes forever, but it is amazing to see the little pictures I draw literally come to life.”  

Freestyle has helped Ilsa grow as both an artist and a person. Freestyle has taught her how to be a better artist, and moreover, not love the applause, but to rather love the process. She is grateful for the supportive community and resources that critique her art, allowing her to learn new methods of production.

“We get really passionate about the projects we do, so we work really hard for them to turn out really well for our own satisfaction and benefit, not just for the grade,” Ilsa said. “This enthusiasm is critical to creating pieces we are proud of, but that enthusiasm is also very intimidating.”

Ilsa’s enthusiasm and efforts in school and Freestyle point toward a future career in the arts for her.

“Schools tend to make kids obsessive about their grades and forget what it’s like to enjoy their work and what they’re learning, but in Freestyle that is not our motivation to do the work,” Ilsa said. “We are making real-life productions and art and we just want to see them come together and be proud of them. The community is so accepting and loving, nothing like any school environment I have ever been in, and every day I am grateful Freestyle exists and that I get to be a part of it.”

In addition to their electives of Animation, Design or Film, all Freestyle students spend half of their time in Digital Media and half in English two to three days a week.


The English class at Freestyle, mainly collaborative and student-led, focuses on enhancing students’ writing through workshops.

For students who seek to challenge themselves in the English course, an honors class is available as well. Students work on creative writing and read several novels throughout the year.

Instead of the typical English classroom where novels are read, tests are taken and essays are written, the Freestyle English projects relate to the project the students work on in their elective class (Animation, Design, Film).

Students in the Honors English class have the same assignments as regular English students, with an additional book, assignment, paper or presentation per quarter. In comparison to class sizes at Los Altos, the Freestyle English classes are much smaller. This makes small group discussions and the class more individualized and connected.

“The English teacher, Mr. Greco, who is shared among all the Freestyle senior and junior classes, works closely with his many students to help them apply to college,” Ilsa said.


All students at Freestyle take digital media. The class teaches students how to create graphics, flyers, podcasts and other projects using various software applications.

The Digital Media class provides a diverse amount of projects and skills that students can use throughout their lives. The projects do not correlate to those of their elective or English class, which gives students a break from their long term elective project. For many film and animation students, digital media offers knowledge that they may not learn in their elective class otherwise.

“Freestyle is a safe environment to explore your interests and there are an incredible amount of opportunities to create and share work,” Film Freestyle student Kristen Andrews said. “The staff at Freestyle is amazing and very good at what they do. Freestyle gives a really good introduction to the arts so I definitely would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about film, animation or design.”