On Friday, June 8, we were proud to host a culminating showcase of youth-produced media by community partner, Educational Video Center (EVC), at TC’s Cowin Auditorium. EVC presented two documentaries produced by New York City youth participants in their Youth Documentary Workshop: The Colors of Health: Understanding Unequal Care in New York City, and Reclaiming Success – a powerful film that unpacks the challenges of New York City transfer schools – small alternative high schools that provide wrap-around services and often more experiential academic opportunities for youth seeking to complete their high school education and who might need to recover credits. The film talks about these challenges through an in-depth look at the lead up to the ordered closing of Crotona High School, a transfer school in the Bronx, NY.
EVC was founded more than 30 years ago by Columbia alum, Steve Goodman, who is also the author of the recently released It’s Not about Grit: Trauma, Inequity, and the Power of Transformative Teaching. Goodman founded EVC with the mission to offer young people guidance in using video to document and critically examine social issues that hit close to home. EVC students are empowered to research, reframe and disseminate these stories from their personal and unique perspectives – a hallmark of critical visual research methodologies.
Many of EVC’s students live in communities disproportionately affected by systemic forms of economic and social injustices and many are often featured subjects in their films. In The Colors of Health, EVC Youth Apprentice, Yhenni Rodriguez, interviewed her mother, and revealed the deep mistrust many patients from underserved communities harbor against healthcare providers. Yhenni’s mother sought medical advice for an inexplicable pain and expressed frustration when clinic staff appeared eager to perform an expensive operation which she felt they had not adequately explained or thoroughly diagnosed.
In Reclaiming Success, high schooler Malik Thomas shared the emotional tumult of being a homeless youth and how familial instability severely affected his education, leading Thomas to City-as-School, a “transfer school” in Manhattan. Thomas’ personal story book-ends Reclaiming Success as his account of transferring from traditional high schools (he had attended 6 before City-as-School), to the experiential program at City-as-School launches the filmmakers’ examination into school accountability. Thomas and his production team explore how “official” “standards-based” measures can undermine student success at transfer schools.
The film sharpens its point with a profile of Crotona Academy High School, a transfer school in the Bronx, that was slated for closure in June, 2018. A mayoral panel voted to close the school on April 25 citing underperformance based on low test scores. The filmmakers made the case for Crotona’s transformational capacity through student interviews and impassioned faculty testimony about benchmarks they assert the panel overlooked such as consistent and incremental academic gains, student attachments to faculty and peers and heightened aspirations for personal success.
Filmmakers on both films carefully reviewed extant research and in Reclaiming Success, the threat to once again disrupt the educational futures of many of the students should Crotona close was palpable. These are students with tenuous connections to formal education being driven further away from completing high school. After uncovering a shockingly serious allegation of corruption, the filmmakers leave the fate of Crotona somewhat undecided as the principal, Patricia Williams leads an appeal of the panel’s decision.
After each screening the students participated in a brief Q&A, led by their respective EVC workshop directors – Gil Feliciano (The Colors of Health), and Jessie Levandov (Reclaiming Success). The filmmakers demonstrated the power of documentary films to inform and inspire as they fielded questions and discussed the challenges and successes they faced during the filmmaking process. With informed resolve, they expressed their hopes and suggestions for direct actions audience members might be inspired to pursue on the issues.
Watch: Reclaiming Success
Learning more about EVC’s work with their youthful participants here.