19 September 2012

Build Me a World

As the first integrated school in the South and the home of the first high school group to start a sit-in movement, The Howard School has a long and important history. It fought through deep segregation, lash back for those who endeavored to bring change, and the numbing process of being forgotten and being allowed to fail. The 1980s began its quick decline into the bottom 5% of American schools and that was where it was left for many years. Its students resorted to such things as drugs, sex, and gang activity in order to find their identity – in order to vent their frustration against a world that refused to listen and refused to help. Fancy Rhino’s goal was to change that. By entering into a community unlike their own, they worked to build friendships in order to tell the story of The Howard School. They wanted to start a movement that went beyond the film and encourage their audience to participate in what they were seeing. Fancy Rhino put cameras into the hands of the students themselves, giving them the opportunity to speak for themselves. They gave them the opportunity to break the silence. Only they can give a true glimpse of their lives in which high school graduation is for many the last celebration in their lives or where death, jail, or fast food is the highest expectation. With 95% of the students living under the poverty line, the majority are constantly gripped by crisis and unable to even comprehend looking beyond high school or even turning seventeen. Because a successful school depends not only on a supportive and knowledgeable staff but also students who have a longing to do, a key change that must take place in order to revitalize The Howard School is for the teachers to use their limited resources to expose their students to the goals and dreams that are possible.

Mimi, one of the students who takes the film's audience into their life, was a teen mother in elementary school and often found herself in trouble with the law. However, she was able to enter the Talented Tenth program at The Howard School where she not only learned of the opportunities that were open to her, but also found the support she needed to graduate high school early and move on to be a college student at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC). However, once she arrived at UTC, she found that none of the support systems that she desperately needed were in place. She found herself slipping back into the silence of poverty. There were no other viable options open to her once she failed her classes and she slid back to the beginning. This is where the world left her. However, because of Fancy Rhino’s work on the film, she found herself suddenly wrapped up in a support net. People contacted her about her part in the film – people who wanted to see change. She was no longer hopeless and silent, but listened to and supported. Where she will go from here, I don’t know, but she has another chance to work towards her goals. It is this kind of story that I want to be able to watch unfold as a teacher. Not only do I want to be able to provide a good education for my students like The Howard School provided for Mimi, but I also want to be able to connect my students to networks that will support them as they go out into college, university, or whatever else their life leads them into. Being called to teach in schools that are filled to the brim with stories like Mimi’s that do not have a good ending is frightening to me. However, seeing the impact that even a small group of people were able to make for the betterment of a school gives me hope.

Build Me a World was filmed by Fancy Rhino. To see more of their films, go to their youtube channel.

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