School Culture

5-Minute Film Festival: A Day in the Life of a Public School District

August 31, 2012

With all the media chatter about test scores, merit pay, failing schools, and teacher quality, it's sometimes easy for those outside the school system to forget that it's people -- just everyday people with a calling for education -- who make up that system. Enter the Go Public Project, a labor of love by filmmakers and public school parents Jim and Dawn O'Keeffe. Jim and Dawn sent fifty film crews, both pro and student, into the twenty-eight schools in Pasadena, California to paint an intimate, and very human, portrait of a day in the life of an American public school district.

I tried to make sure not every clip was one that made me cry, but the truth is, getting such a close-up look at the passion and the beauty of the people who form the heart of public schools, and hearing their voices, is incredibly moving. With limited resources but limitless optimism in sometimes dire circumstances, these teachers, students, administrators, and support staff are making a difference every day. I'd like to share a few of the portraits I loved the most.

Video Playlist: Best of Go Public

Watch the first video below, or watch the whole playlist on Vimeo.

  1. Elementary Science Resource Teacher (04:27)

    K-5 inquiry-based science teacher Jodie West calls all of her students at Washington Accelerated Elementary School engineers -- and she encourages and appreciates their "awesome disasters" as well as their successes.

  2. Custodian (04:25)

    The unsung heroes in our schools have to be the custodians -- first to arrive, last to leave, and always on the move -- not just picking up after hundreds of students, but making a strong connections with them. Felix Lopez, custodian at Washington Middle School, does all of this with a smile.

  3. Guidance Counselor (04:30)

    Frances Collins-Moore has weathered lots of changes in her nearly twenty years as a teacher and guidance counselor at Marshall Fundamental High School. She sees untenable class sizes and budget cuts having a negative impact on the kids and teachers alike, but she keeps her spirits up by focusing on the relationships.

  4. Third Grade Teacher (04:08)

    Meet Esther Chun, a teacher at Franklin Elementary School. Her students benefit from her passion, her bubbly enthusiasm, and her emphasis on character ed, but budget cuts are putting her job at risk.

  5. Second Grade Student in Spanish Dual Language Immersion Program (04:05)

    Abby Griffith and her twin sister are becoming literate in two languages in San Rafael Elementary School's Dual Language Spanish Immersion Program. For their English-speaking parents, it's both a challenge and a delight to learn along with their daughters.

  6. Culinary Arts and Hospitality Academy Teacher (04:03)

    Blair High School is an International Baccalaureate school which also offers a Health Academy and a Hospitality Academy. Culinary Arts teacher Donnetha Wallace shares her love of cooking with her enthusiastic students.

  7. Third Grade Student with Special Needs (04:18)

    Angel is a third grader who doesn't let his wheelchair impede his learning and exploration. At Roosevelt Elementary, he and other kids with special needs have opportunities to make art and use assistive technology tools to help them grow.

  8. High School Teacher for At-Risk Students (04:22)

    Gareth Seigel teaches high school at CIS Academy, an alternative program where kids go when they have no other options. His unflagging belief in his high-risk, challenged kids helps give them the chance to change their path.

  9. Elementary School Principal ~ Ms. Weisenberger (03:34)

    Elementary school administrators know that every day is an adventure, as they juggle the roles of mentor, fundraiser, therapist, manager, mediator, and advocate. The best part about this tribute to patient and flexible principal Frances Weisenberger? It was filmed by two middle school students, the youngest crew members in the Go Public team.

  10. Ninth Grade Student in Arts, Entertainment, and Media Academy (04:05)

    Spunky high school freshman Devin Perry has a goal of being the first in her family to attend college. She works hard at Muir High School's Arts, Entertainment, and Media Academy to achieve her dream.

  11. Security Guard ~ Volunteer Choir and Instrumental Music Instructor (02:32)

    Middle school security guard Marvin Hatchett keeps the school safe during the day, and volunteers as the choir and music director after school.

  12. Parent Volunteer (04:18)

    Single mom Esmeralda Cerezo finds strength by volunteering daily at the Healthy Start center at Madison Elementary, providing extra resources and helping immigrant families feel welcome in the school community.

  13. Middle School Librarian (04:28)

    The role of the school library has evolved as technology changes, but the valuable resources it offers are sometimes seen as superfluous. Middle school librarian Maura Large loves her work, but due to budget cuts, all secondary school librarians in Pasadena were laid off at the end of 2012.

More About the Go Public Project

Pasadena Unified School District is a diverse district with four traditional and two alternative high schools, five middle schools, and seventeen elementary schools. The population in the district is about 60% Hispanic, with 68% free and reduced lunch. The Go Public team of forty professional film crews and ten student film crews covered every school in the district on May 8th, 2012.

Fifty films, each under five minutes, have already been posted online, and executive producers Dawn and Jim are now working on making a two-hour feature-length documentary out of the nearly 350 hours of footage captured. If you'd like to learn more about the project, check out the links below.

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