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Odd Hollywood Jobs: Set teacher

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Studio teacher Linda Stone works with teen actor Leo Howard at his desk on set for the Disney XD show "Kickin' It."
Mary Plummer/KPCC
Studio teacher Linda Stone works with teen actor Leo Howard at his desk on set for the Disney XD show "Kickin' It."

In her 36 years working as a studio teacher, Linda Stone has worked with everyone from Miley Cyrus to "Family Matters" star Kellie Williams.

This is one in a series on Odd Hollywood Jobs — not acting or directing, but rather the tasks you haven't heard of. You can read other segments in this series at the links below the story.

Ever wondered where your favorite child actors go to school? 

For children in the entertainment industry in California, school comes to them in the form of studio teachers.

Linda Stone has worked as one for 36 years. The native New Yorker discovered the field while working for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

It took seven years for her to get into the union — the easiest place to find work as a studio teacher. Stone says she's had steady work since joining the union 29 years ago. She's one of about 100 members in the state. 

"It's just been a fun career. I can't imagine ever retiring," said Stone, who's the business agent for The Studio Teachers Welfare Workers Local 884 union. "There's an enormous reward in seeing kids learn something and the excitement that they feel when they master a concept."

The state of California mandates that studio teachers be on any set where children are working, to monitor child labor laws. They're responsible for ensuring that the students do 15 hours of schoolwork a week, the state requirement for 1st through 12th graders. They're also supposed to keep an eye out for safety practices.

They're hired and paid by production companies and work everywhere from theater productions to big budget Hollywood films. And just like the actors, the gigs come and go.

At the moment, Stone is working for the Disney XD cable TV show "Kickin' It," which wrapped production of its third season last week. Stone and another studio teacher, Cheryl Diamond, work as a team and coordinate schooling for the show's four co-stars under age 18: Dylan Riley Snyder, Olivia Holt, Mateo Arias and Leo Howard. Their actual "school" is an independent study program based in Oak Park.

During a visit to the set earlier this month, Howard sat with Stone as he worked on a short-answer assignment on a laptop about "The Great Gatsby." It was his last assignment of the 10th grade.

"It can be very difficult to get our schoolwork done," Howard said, because of the sometimes hectic production schedule. Sometimes the school day is cut into chunks as small as 2o minutes between shooting.

"It's much different than regular school," he said.

At the Hollywood Center Studios lot where "Kickin' It" tapes, Disney has dedicated a room as a classroom. Each actor has his or her own desk decorated with photos and other personal items.

As a set teacher, Stone said she's traveled with child stars all over the world, sometimes flying in private jets and sleeping at luxe hotels. She accompanied Miley Cyrus during two concert tours. 

Among her teaching credits are the films "Air Force One" and "Practical Magic" and the television shows "Family Matters" and "Hannah Montana."

Arias said he first met Stone on the set of "Hannah Montana" when she taught his brother, Moises Arias, who played Rico. He credits Stone with helping him get through high school. He's getting ready to graduate.

"I don't ever call her my teacher. I legitimately introduce her as my second mom," he said. "She helps me with life, problems, anything that's happening in my life."

Stone's taught former students how to play tennis and how to drive. On a recent weekend, she invited "Kickin' It" stars over to her home for a cooking lesson.

Stone said to her, the job is about much more than teaching schoolwork. 

"This industry is so fragile — you can be on a hit show on Monday and it can be cancelled on Friday," she said. "I somewhat feel responsible for keeping them grounded, for reminding them that they need more of an identity than just being an actor on a show."

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