The real-life story that inspired the 'Degrassi' universe

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The cast of 'Degrassi: The Next Generation' with Linda Schuyler

If not common knowledge, it’s at least part of the folklore that the "Degrassi" TV universe was spawned from an after-school special called “Ida Makes a Movie.” But few people seem to know why Degrassi co-creator Linda Schuyler was inspired to make that short film.

Schuyler was a schoolteacher before her television days. While teaching grades 7 and 8 at Earl Grey Senior Public School in Toronto’s east end, Schuyler was having trouble finding films to show her class. She told Playback Magazine that she put on a National Film Board movie about a young girl and her alcoholic father;  in a class discussion after the film, Schuyler noticed one student was having trouble discussing the subject matter, and the teacher realized the student was probably living in an alcoholic household.

The incident, Schuyler said, motivated her to buy the rights to the book “Ida Makes a Movie,” and set her eyes on educational films that help students navigate real-life issues.

The story of “Ida Makes a Movie” is odd in itself, according to "Degrassi Generations: the Official 411."  The librarian at Earl Grey ordered the book to help Schuyler’s class work on filmmaking projects, not realizing it was actually about a cat named Ida.

While it was of little use to the class, Schuyler bought the film rights (for $200), and repurposed the story to feature a nine year-old student who’s disgusted by all the garbage in her local park - on Degrassi Street. Ida makes a movie about the garbage, but it’s mistaken as an anti-war film and wins an award from the National Film Board, and Ida is forced to be honest about what happened.

“Ida Makes a Movie” led to three more after-school specials, which turned into "The Kids of Degrassi Street," a 26-episode anthology that preceded "Degrassi Junior High."

Why "Degrassi"? That’s the street on which Schuyler lived. Earl Grey Senior Public School played a key role in the "Degrassi" world as well; it was used as a stand-in for another high school in the third season of "Degrassi Junior High," and the cafeteria was featured prominently throughout the run of "Degrassi Junior High. "