Napa Valley Register
bu Jennifer Huffman
Who says kids can’t make a difference?
Not the kids from Napa’s Phillips Elementary Magnet School.
Two years ago, a group of then-sixth graders from Phillips convinced the city and Napa Mayor Jill Techel to add much-needed streetlights and sidewalks to areas around the east Napa school.
Today, those students, and that journey, are the stars of a new documentary released on April 2 on both Amazon Prime and the Roku Channel.
Called “Make it Work,” the four-part documentary features the students of Jennifer Ellison’s 2016-2017 sixth-grade class at Phillips.
During that school year, documentary film-making company Konwiser Brothers spent a whole school year following her students.
The idea was to create a documentary about the students as they explored “imagination and industry, with a focus on chasing their dreams regardless of their circumstances,” said a news release.
Phillips School is made up of 65 percent second-language learners and 85 percent are eligible to receive a free or reduced-price lunch, according to the documentary. Many are children of service industry and farm laborers who work behind the scenes, “practically invisible” to the visitors in the valley.
The film is about how those students “find some kind of courage to stand up and be heard,” said the narrator.
The classroom became part of Konwiser’s documentary, created for Legendary Pictures, thanks to the students’ participation in an after-school program, Leadership Academy.
Developed by nonprofit On the Move, Leadership Academy is meant to “teach students the skills necessary to connect to, and succeed, in school, build their capacity as community leaders and learn and demonstrate the value of local civic engagement.”
One of the Leadership projects at Phillips that the filmmakers featured was about the lack of streetlights and sidewalks around the school.
A group of Leadership students, including then-sixth graders Lina Delgadillo and Michelle Miguel, decided to research the problem and present their proposal to the city to add lights and sidewalks in the school area.
To their delight, it worked. Lights and sidewalks were installed.
Because the students were so prepared — as seen in the video — “the kids got to move along this process much more quickly,” said Ellison.
“It’s a beautiful example of how impactful Leadership Academy has been,” said Ellison. “It’s transformed our school. We’ve had so many opportunities come our way because of the strong leadership of our students in the program.”
“If you believe in yourself,” no one can stop you, Michelle Miguel said.
Even though the students had previously seen their documentary at the Napa Valley Film Festival, knowing that the whole world can watch it now is something else.
“I can’t get used to it,” said Michelle. “It’s my favorite movie now,” she said with a smile.
Lina Delgadillo said she she‘s happy she was part of the documentary. “Without the project, people wouldn’t know that kids can make a change,” she said.
Even though it was filmed two years ago, “It’s good to see how much they’ve grown,” both mentally and physically, said Ellison.
“I knew they were amazing kids” said Ellison. “I didn’t need a film to tell me that.”
Lina and Michelle are now finishing eighth grade and middle school.
They both hope to join the Leadership Academy groups in high school.
“It’s hopefully empowering them for life,” said Ellison.