The Oak Park Hall of Fame

Why does Oak Park Independent School attract entertainers?

Aviva Medved, Senior Staff Writer

Why is Oak Park Independent School such a magnet for Zendaya, Gabby Douglas, Olivia Holt and others in the creative community? 

According to the pop culture site J14, Oak Park High School is a “high school for the stars” Whether or not that’s true is up for debate, but there’s no denying we have our fair share of celebrity graduates. What is it about OPUSD that makes these stars gravitate towards Oak Park? 

“OPUSD offers options for education like the independent school program, which celebrity students who have to be on set and can’t always follow a traditional school schedule might prefer,” Sophia Fischer explained in an email. 

Fischer interviewed one of the first stars who grew up in Oak Park, Zachary Gordon, for The Acorn over 10 years ago. Gordon attended Oak Park Independent School and eventually graduated from Oak Park High School in 2016.  Fischer learned about his acting career and his studies on set. Gordon starred in many different movies like “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”, all the three of the original “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies, and even provided a voice for “Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa.”

“Zachary Gordon had a good excuse for missing 72 days of school this year at Oak Hills Elementary in Oak Park,” Fischer wrote in her 2008 article in The Acorn. “The 10-year-old is an award-winning actor who spent the time making films, television shows, and commercials.”

A number of students in Oak Park believe that the district offers many opportunities that other areas do not. For example, they believe that our independent school has a more down-to-earth feel than most private schools. 

“​​Not only is it anonymous, but there is academic excellence,” junior Jasmine Lahooti said. “The independent school offers flexibility.”

Just like Gordon, many celebrities on Disney+ and old Disney Channel shows such as Zendaya, Peyton List, Bradley Steven Perry, Olivia Holt, Cameron Boyce and Karan Brar have all graduated from OPIS. 

According to OPIS teacher Samantha Lyons, the school was not always a magnet for talent. Before OPIS became popular for stars, Kate Thompson, a veteran teacher, who just completed her 20th year at OPUSD would go to different studios in Los Angeles promoting OPIS to actors. “They would go to Warner Brothers, Universal, Netflix, HBO,” Lyons said. Kate Thomspson helped OPIS become what it is today.  

Before the days of zoom and before COVID, OPIS was an early adopter in virtual learning, using Google Meet or Skype for students in a location far away due to their filming requirements.  But there was always an in-person factor at the school, whenever possible, with students meeting with their teachers once a week. 

“There was no change when COVID happened. We always met with our students one-on-one and the students are used to it,” Lyons states. 

Despite its Hollywood fame, OPIS is not just a school for stars of course. Any person can attend the school if they want a flexible schedule. Students are able to pursue their passions while simultaneously getting an education.

“We also have a lot of actors and actresses that go straight to a four-year college after school. We have so many different types of students. We have the acting kids, the athletes, and the kids who want to take community college classes,” Lyons said. 

The location of the independent school is also an important factor for students trying to decide if they want to go there. OPIS is located about 30 miles away from Hollywood. Many people in the entertainment industry don’t even know where Oak Park is located, and its little-known location adds to the allure.

“Like many of us, I believe that celebrities are attracted to Oak Park for our close-knit community, beauty and exceptional school district,” Fischer said.