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Local Doc Tackles Ed Reform Through Student Eyes

by Leah Worthy

Local Doc Tackles Ed Reform Through Student Eyes

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Picture by Steve Saxon

September 2, 2014

We usually hear about the dysfunctions in our education system from top-down sources: Administrators, teachers, parents, and reformers contend they speak on behalf of the students. But why not hear straight from them?

Dr. Barbara Ann Temple, vice president of education at the Arts & Science Council of Charlotte, recently brought together a group of high school and undergraduate students for the making of Spiral Bound, a documentary that advocates change in public education. The result is a rare opportunity for audiences to hear directly from students affected by the divisive issues surrounding education systems in our community and nationwide.  

The idea to make the documentary came about in 2013 when Allison Dulin, the director of Davidson College’s Education Scholars program, contacted Temple about partnering with the Arts & Science Council for the program’s inaugural 10-week summer initiative.

The Education Scholars program at Davidson pairs undergraduates interested in actively seeking change in our education system with leading education organizations in the Charlotte area. Those groups include the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, Project L.I.F.T., and the office of the CMS deputy superintendent. Over the course of the 10 weeks, students complete a project-based internship and participate in workshops that explore critical issues in education.

Temple was thrilled by the prospect of hosting an Education Scholar. Recognizing a unique opportunity, she suggested that the Education Scholars partner with a group of high school students from Studio 345, the Arts & Science Council’s youth development program. For Temple, the pairing was a natural one. “These youth are the face of the exact issue for which the Davidson College students were seeking change, ” she says.  

Temple recruited eight students from Studio 345, posing a simple but staggering question to them: Were they interested in being part of a revolution? The students were already learning about the documentary filmmaking art form, so the decision was made to use the medium to record their narratives. In this way, they could promote social justice in our local school system and in school systems across the nation. 

Studio 345 offers CMS students the opportunity to learn from professional artists   in the fields of Digital Photography, Digital Media Arts, and Multimedia Design. Using the arts as an agent for empowerment, the program motivates students to graduate and set their sights on personal goals beyond the classroom. That, in turn, prepares them to become active and engaged members of their communities. The program is free, but there is one condition for participation: In exchange for their instruction at Studio 345, students must do their best in school.

That’s an important caveat, since most of the students who enroll in the program are at risk of not graduating. The sole means of intervention used at Studio 345 is an exposure to the arts. An arts education was once considered as fundamental as reading, writing, and arithmetic, but is now typically the first casualty of funding cuts.

In Spiral Bound, the insights from Davidson Education Scholars, Studio 345 scholars, and leaders in the education community offer audiences a broad range of perspectives on our education system. The film raises concerns about equity, access, opportunity, and the standardization of curriculum and testing. It puts a spotlight on the direct correlation between widespread defunding of the arts and our nation’s current drop-out crisis.

“Defunding the arts is perpetuating the status quo within our society,” Temple says, “nearly six million elementary students alone have no visual or performing arts in their classrooms. We are facing a drop-out crisis, over 8,300 every day.”

The success of Studio 345 shows the power of the arts to improve drop-out rates. The program’s 100 percent graduation rate in 2014 proves the key role an arts education plays in the development of a student’s potential.

Even the making of Spiral Bound is proof of what students can achieve when given an opportunity. In addition to sharing their stories, the students from Studio 345 also created the music, lyrics, and artwork used in the film. The students know that finding their creative voices is second only to being told their voices matter and that someone is listening.

“All it takes is for people to create intentional space for students to tap their creative spirits, thus transforming their once-silenced voices into megaphones of worthy stories,” says Temple.

Spiral Bound honors the worthy stories of students who want to make a difference. Temple hopes that viewers will witness their stories as a call to action, and that the film will incite dialogue that results in real change across the nation.While there are no current plans to show the film beyond the two showings listed below, organizers hope people will contact them to request showings and have plans to put a film screening guide on the website.

Spiral Bound will be shown at the McGlohon Theatre at Spirit Square on Tuesday, September 9 at 6:30 p.m.and at the Duke Family Performance Hall at Davidson College on Thursday, September 11 at 7 p.m. For ticket information or to view the documentary trailer, visit




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Tags: Arts & Science Council, education, reform, Spiral Bound

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