A documentary by Karina Epperlein and John Knoop
About the tempestuous first year of an alternative charter high school in Alameda, California, where the students have a say, too
WE ARE HERE TOGETHER, a one hour documentary film, tells the story of a group of teenagers who weren’t happy with school, so they started their own. They wanted to reach beyond academic scores and to learn how to function in the real world. HOME/BASE is the public charter high school they designed with the help and advice of their adult councilors. The students were members of a youth empowerment program called HOME, and they had experienced involvement in doing real things—like helping to build the largest public skateboard park in California, running a youth employment agency, working in a child care center and successfully petitioning the Alameda City Council for a building on the former Naval Air Station.
WE ARE HERE TOGETHER follows 45 ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders through the first tempestuous year of their new school, revealing the dynamic of community building that makes it different from other high schools. The students- ignore the cameras and allow the filmmakers access to moments of crisis and joy.
A pupil refuses to join the community circle until she is lovingly coaxed back by her fellow students. Another day a senior will not participate in a self-rating exercise, and her rebellion results in a re-affirmation of student rights. On “parents’ night” mothers and fathers are asked to write letters to their kids expressing their deepest feelings. In school the following day the students read the letters and share them with each other, crying with surprise at their parents’ love. In ‘Home Sweet Home,’ the school’s childcare center, the ability of teenage boys to relate with creativity and tenderness to young children is a revelation.
Since the school’s academic standards and procedures match those at other high schools, the filmmakers choose to bypass documenting the traditional classroom instruction. Instead WE ARE HERE TOGETHER portrays the process of community and relationship building that make the atmosphere at HOME/BASE a fertile learning ground.
WE ARE HERE TOGETHER is a provocative film that takes the viewer on an emotional journey full of drama, trials and triumphs. Questions arise, such as: What is really important in education beside grades? What do we want our children to learn in addition to the academics? A sense of self worth? How to bring about change in the world? What does striving for justice and fairness entail?
The transformations and awakenings of the young people in this film, their candidness, honesty and "realness" are moving and impressive. Some parents never see this side of their children. Watching the students’ strength and emotional growth emerge, the viewer feels a ray of hope as the success of HOME/BASE suggests a way out of the educational crisis in America.
"…it's as if the cameras aren't even there. What comes out of that endeavor is much more bracing than reality TV…" —Starz Denver Film Festival