Smell that? That’s the smell of the imminent autumn in the air. Even if you’re long out of school, the arrival of the crisp fall weather conjures memories of buying new backpacks, freshly sharpened pencils, and those unwieldy five-ring notebooks. Yup, it’s back-to-school season. Whether you’re still a student starting a new semester or you’re just feeling nostalgic for your school days, we have seven titles that celebrate the student experience. Welcome back to class.
Imagine trying to learn algebra while juggling adult life. This intimate documentary follows three adults in Indianapolis trying to earn their high school degrees through the city’s rigorous night school program: a single father, an older woman who dropped out of high school almost 40 years ago, and a woman who needs a high school diploma in order to enroll in nursing school. They’re all trying to attain better futures, but not only do they have to study harder than they’ve ever studied before, but they have to do it while navigating life challenges and the systemic roadblocks that many low-income Americans face.
Featuring an all-star cast, including Adrien Brody, Marcia Gay Harden, James Caan, Lucy Liu, and Christina Hendricks, “Detachment” follows an educator (Brody) who has a natural gift for connecting with students but chooses to be a substitute teacher so he can stay emotionally detached. When he’s placed in a troubled public school, however, he’ll discover that his gift is not the kind to take for granted and waste.
Wanna know what students struggle with today? A documentary-drama hybrid starring teens who play versions of themselves, “Silent Rose” is an uber-realistic portrait of a typical American high school following the 2016 election. The students give their perspectives on everything from Trump to the Trayvon Martin murder to school shootings, painting a larger picture of what high school life is like in a country divided by racial inequality, disinformation campaigns, and gun violence.
When an entire city’s public schools lose funding for their music programs, what happens to all the broken instruments in need of repair? They can continue to sit and collect dust or, as one Philadelphia community decided, they can be put to good use. In this short documentary, a group of educators, advocates, and innovators created Symphony for a Broken Orchestra, which raised awareness for the issue and helped to put 1500 broken instruments back in the students’ hands.
In the weeks and months after the horrific Parkland shooting, this is exactly what the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School needed. The documentary follows a group of students rehearsing for their school production of “Spring Awakening,” a Tony-winning musical about adolescents trying to find themselves in a world where adults have failed them. They had started rehearsals before the shooting, but when they returned to school a week later, it felt more meaningful than ever to finish. Seeing these kids pour their hearts into the play is like a glimpse into their resilience and strength.
When high school English teacher Diana forms an attraction to one of her teenage students, she does exactly what you’re not supposed to. In this unnerving psychological thriller, what starts out as a forbidden affair between Diana and her student Eric spirals into a full-on obsession for the emotionally troubled teacher. The way she completely unravels makes for a raw and disquieting character study in one woman’s desperate hunger for connection.
Another reason to expand funding for schools? How about kids’ basic nutritional needs? The School Breakfast Program serves breakfast to 14.5 million students in the US. In lower-income areas, it may be the only stable meal of their day. In this episode of Topic’s docuseries “Eating,” we meet a third grader in Boston who regularly eats breakfast at school, and if it weren’t for his school’s meal program, he would have never tried common fruits and vegetables like broccoli, strawberries, and grapefruit.