“Class of COVID-19” Hits the Big Screen

Documentary created by UMKC professor included in KC Film Fest
A title screen from the film shows six photos of people in the film with the title, "Class of COVID-19 a documentary film"

Street demonstrations for racial justice. Zoom classes. Conflict between school nurses and parents over virus precautions. School was a unique experience for the “Class of COVID-19.”

And that is the title of a new documentary film launched by Donna M. Davis, Ph.D., UMKC professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Foundations, that she hopes provides a window into that experience. As the 2020 president of the Organization of Educational Historians, Davis needed to deliver a presentation at the group’s annual meeting. She thought making a mini-documentary might be more interesting.

“At first, I wanted to make a short film around the work of high school history teachers in the era of ‘fake news’ and social media for my presidential address,” Davis says. “I contacted [filmmaker] Jon Brick and he was on board right away.”

The pair began filming interviews with local teachers. Soon after, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and schools began to close, and the focus of the project quickly changed. Initially, Davis, Brick and their subjects thought the shutdown would last a few weeks.

“We were filming early in the pandemic, so we had those initial reactions,” Davis says. “Then we moved to Zoom interviews.”

As shutdown extended into summer and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the pair decided to interview high school students for their reactions.

“The project exploded from there,” Davis says. “And we began to focus on students and teachers with the most compelling stories.”

“We were filming early in the pandemic, so we had those initial reactions.” — Donna M. Davis

Brick says the people who participated in the interviews were very transparent about the level of stress and anxiety they were feeling.

“They talked to us about it, but they also made video diaries. Teachers talked to us about the demands of teaching, and students told us what it was like to be a freshman in college and be in a dorm room all alone day after day.”

They filmed interviews of school administrators and nurses, who told them how abusive parents could be in the face of their frustrations.

“We were able to talk to the head of health services at Shawnee Mission School District and heard stories of the challenges that the school nurses went through and how just how awful they were treated at times by parents who were just upset with the news that they were having to deliver,” Davis says. “It was really eye opening.”

Brick says one of his biggest surprises was the disparity between the wealthy schools and the those in the urban core and how much better many students from poorer districts managed the transition.

“I really felt as if the kids at  Schlagle High School in Kansas City, Kansas had an edge, because they have struggles every day. They just put their heads down and worked.”

One student at Schlagle picked up a job at Chick-fil-A to pay for Wi-fi for himself and his five siblings.

“The family had a hotspot at home, but it couldn’t support the demand of six devices,” Brick says. “Sometimes he rode his bike and sat outside Schlagle to feed off their Wi-fi. He just wanted to graduate so badly so he could pursue his passion of becoming a baker.”

Regardless of individual viewers’ personal experiences, Davis and Brick think everyone will identify with the characters in their film.

“The film really showcases how teachers on every level shifted, and even if they had their own personal struggles, put on a brave face for the kids and made it work,” Davis says.

“Class of Covid-19” will air at the Kansas City Film Fest International April 26, 2021. Tickets are available online.

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Published: Apr 7, 2022

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