A student-designed billboard

Most billboards along La Cienega Boulevard might hawk Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton, with lots of skin and pouty looks, but a new one that just went up across the street from Pressman Academy presents quite a different image.

Last week, Pressman Academy unveiled an anti-bullying billboard, thought up and designed by students themselves and supported by CBS Outdoor.

The billboard features an image of last year’s eighth-grade class and beckons passers-by to “Be An Ally” and “Take A Stand Against Bullying.”

For years, the billboard, located at the intersection of La Cienega and Olympic boulevards and owned by CBS Outdoor, showcased a “constant barrage” of sexually inappropriate advertisements that offended students, according to Pressman Academy Administrator Deborah Engel Kollin.

As part of a curriculum about body image, sixth-grade students learned about the media’s influence surrounding societal expectations of physical appearance. Tired of racy imagery on the board, the students decided to attempt to use what they had learned in school to change the content.

In 2009, a group of 12 sixth-graders began writing letters to CBS Outdoor in an effort to inform the company about the billboard’s upsetting display of sexually explicit images and words. The efforts had little effect for about six months.

“[CBS Outdoor was] lovely, but our letters just sat on someone’s desk for months and months,” said Pressman Academy middle-school counselor Inez Tiger.

But the sixth-graders pressed on, and got some help from OneLA, an alliance of churches and synagogues devoted to community organizing, as well as Pressman Academy parent Melissa Patack Berenbaum and Temple Beth Am Rabbi Susan Leider. Together, they were able to communicate to CBS Outdoor the students’ concerns and hopes for a new billboard.

Ninth-graders Rina Goldman and Monica Ramsey — graduates of Pressman day school — spoke at the press conference on Nov. 28, describing the discomfort they and their fellow students felt when they looked out their classroom windows at the billboard every day.

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus praised the girls and their classmates and elaborated on the negotiating process with CBS Outdoor.

“As our students were able to meet with representatives of CBS Outdoor, they learned that they were able to tag the billboard as school-adjacent” and determine the appropriateness of advertisements placed on the billboard.

CBS Outdoor Vice President R.B. Brooks met with the students and granted them the opportunity to design a billboard at no cost to the school.

The anti-bullying billboard will move around Los Angeles for the next three months,  whenever CBS Outdoor has available advertising space. The next location slotted for the billboard is the intersection of West Pico Boulevard and South Shenandoah Street.

The billboards near Pressman will remain designated as school-adjacent, and CBS Outdoor will monitor their content.

“We want our graduates to be leaders in the community with strong Jewish values who are involved in whatever community they’re in,” Engel Kollin said.