To many of its neighbors, Fairfax High School in Los Angeles was a place to avoid. A chain-link fence separated the school, which served many low-income students, from the rest of the bustling West Hollywood area. Graffiti marked the dilapidated school buildings, and the campus landscaping consisted of dirt and dying shrubbery.

But when actors Pierson Blaetz and Whitney Weston first noticed Fairfax High in the mid-1990s, they saw potential. The students could be an audience to whom they could...

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