Created and run by Thomas Halverson, the director of the UW’s master’s in education policy (MEP) program, the Education and Society film screenings attempt to put academia into a real world context.
“It’s just something I’ve taken on as a way to help students better understand how these challenges impact members of the community,” Halverson said. “It’s one thing for our [students] to go out into the world and think about these issues from an academic perspective, but when they’re out in the trenches … that’s when it really comes home for them.”
There are three separate film screenings as part of the event. One already screened Oct. 24, and the remaining films are to be screened Nov. 7 and Dec. 5.
The next film will be “The Homestretch,” screened at Foster High School in Tukwila. It centers on the stories and experiences of young people in Chicago who have been homeless.
One, identified only as Kasey, was thrown out by their mother when it was discovered they were lesbian.
“The first two weeks I was sleeping in a park, literally,” Kasey says in the film.
Another student, Roque, went homeless because of immigration. A boy named Anthony explained that he’s been homeless since he was 14 years old, escaping abuse but sacrificing a roof over his head.
Halverson said there’s a reason this film is being shown specifically at Foster High School.
“Foster High School has really had some innovative policies and ideas around trying to support homeless students in their district,” Halverson said.
Halverson was talking about the use of the McKinney-Vento Act. It’s a federal law that provides funding to states, which then gets designated to specific schools that make sure homeless children and youth get immediate enrollment and educational stability, according to Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Foster High School has even used local funds to employ social workers, community liaisons, and counselors. It’s reported that the school graduated 73% of its homeless students last year, exceeding the state’s overall homeless-student graduation rate of 52%.
After the screening, there will be a discussion panel featuring UW faculty member Josephine Ensign, author of “Catching Homelessness.”
“She was somebody who struggled with homelessness herself,” Halverson said. “We’re hoping to really bring a lot of authenticity to the discussion around the challenge.”
The December film for the Education & Society screenings will be “Starving The Beast.” The film essentially blames the downfall of public education funding on politicians’ dedication to not increasing taxes, effectively putting the burden on schools, and ultimately students, to backfill costs.
“These reformers decided that universities were the problem,” someone comments in the film. “They started an urban political campaign under this mistaken guise that students are consumers, rather than students and future citizens.”
This piece will be screened in Kane Hall on the UW Seattle campus.
This is the third year of the film screenings. Originally created by Halverson for his MEP program, the film project expanded to include the whole campus before now extending out into the community. Because Halverson wants so much for his students to get engaged, he said putting on the documentary series has taken up more and more of his time.
“After having done it for three years now, I’ve sort of got a reputation that I’m always on the lookout for movies,” Halverson said. “So I’ve got people sending me stuff now. We try to diversify the type of movies we show.”
Dustin Wunderlich, the director for marketing and Communications in the College of Education, knows Halverson well.
“Tom is a fantastic leader,” Wunderlich said. “He really is a great model for how we can partner with players across the educational spectrum with a variety of different roles and bring them together to have these sort of discussions.”
This film series alone partners with three different organizations. One is Stand For Children, a nonprofit that advocates for education policy. Another is the renowned Seattle Times Education Lab, dedicated to coverage around issues of education and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. One of the most popular coverage pieces from their Education Lab is a piece about harsher punishments given to students of color in school. The third partner is UW Impact, a UW alumni legislative advocacy program.
“We need to have programs like this that are bringing people together,” Wunderlich said. “These are certainly complex issues and there are many things that need to happen to address some of these issues. Some of the solution is in school, some is in communities, some is systemically as a society.”
Both of the remaining showings are free, and attendees don’t have to be a part of the MEP program, which Halverson said is approximately 20 students in size.