Dec 4 2014 | by Will Crockett
Courtesy of The Daily Mississippian
Two University of Mississippi senior public policy leadership majors, Kaitlyn Barton and Christine Dickason, are releasing their documentary entitled “The Way I See It” Friday. The documentary, which was filmed at three randomly chosen Mississippi public schools such as Magee High School, Northwest Rankin High School, and Leland High School, focuses on whether or not the Mississippi school system is preparing high school students for college adequately.
Barton explained the documentary is about students and giving them a platform to speak about their educational experiences. Their film explores what students think about their school, and how their school is preparing them for college—that is why the film is titled “The Way I See It”.
“We wanted student perspectives, which I feel is often overlooked or ignored,” Barton said.
When asked why they chose to focus on the often overlooked student perspectives in the documentary, Barton expressed the power that a students’ viewpoint holds.
“We chose to focus on students because we believe in the power of student voice,” said Barton. “The students are the ones who are impacted directly by education policy. It makes sense that they would be part of the conversation.”
The idea for the documentary stemmed from conversations about education held between Barton, from Flowood, Miss., and Dickason, from Collierville, Tenn. When both students began to express that their respective high schools didn’t fully prepare them for the college experience, they wanted to see how others felt about their level of preparedness.
Dickason said when they arrived at the University of Mississippi, they thought they were prepared for college because they attended some of the top high schools in their respective states.
“We thought we were ready for the rigor of college-level work, but our perception changed when we got to our first final exams,” Dickason said. “We had never learned to study for a test that covered so much material. We then became curious about other students’ experiences, and whether or not they were similar to ours.”
Even though filming for the project began last Fall, both students said the idea had been in the works since their freshman years. The two students shared similar viewpoints about educational policy, but weren’t sure how to express their viewpoints until seeing a poster in the honors college for a film competition.
Barton said they were on their way out of the honors college when they saw a poster for the UM Cinema Competition and that’s when they decided to make a documentary about education in Mississippi.
“The project changed and focused, but the end goal was the same: we wanted to use film to start a conversation about education policy,” Barton said.
While this was the first documentary filming experience for both Barton and Dickason, the two filmed the documentary entirely on their own between the fall of 2013 and fall of 2014.
Barton said The Honors College funded their project, and equipment was provided by Media and Documentary Studies. Baron said it was challenging at times because they had to shoot sporadically as their school schedules would allow.
Dickason said they filmed the entire documentary, but once they got to the editing room, they received assistance from Dr. Andy Harper, from the Southern Documentary Project. Dr. Harper also taught them the fundamentals of using the cameras, as this was our first documentary film.
“He has been an amazing support for us throughout the entire project,” Dickason said.
Dr. Harper said he was impressed by Barton and Dickason’s dedication to the project, and have done a great job of staying focused on a project that they could have easily gotten bogged down in.
“Studying education in Mississippi is a challenging, and often frustrating proposition and I have enjoyed watching them grow over the course of doing this research the last three years,” Harper said. “They never wavered or got frustrated and that is a testament to their desire to help Mississippians and to their strong resolve.”
When asked about what she hopes anyone who watches the documentary will take away from it, Dickason said she hopes that people will began to value the students’ opinion.
“After watching the film, I hope people realize that students’ voices matter,” said Dickason. “I also hope that people realize the importance of college to so many of these students, and that, currently, we are not preparing the students to the extent that we should be for college.”
Dickason said she hopes that the film will begin a much needed conversation about education within the state.
“I really hope that this documentary starts a conversation about college prep and student aspirations in Mississippi, but more importantly, I want educators and policy makers to begin conversations about how to include students in the conversation,” Dickason said.
Both Barton and Dickason saw two common themes throughout shooting the documentary, one being that Mississippi students are very aware of the disparities surrounding them in the educational system, and the other being that Mississippi students don’t understand the college application process.
Barton said Mississippi students (also) do not understand the intricacies of the college application process. Barton said one student thought that all you had to do was put your name on a list. Our schools need to prepare students for college and that improves helping students through the application process.
“Mississippi students are highly aware of the disparities in their educations,” said Barton. “Students expressed time and time again that they feel that they are not given the opportunities to excel beyond high school.”
While the documentary is an exploration of policy in Mississippi, Dickason felt it has a sincere human element as well.
Dickason said she will never forget one particular conversation she had with a student they interviewed.
“He expressed his desire to attend college as a way out of the cycle of poverty and hopelessness in which he and many of his peers feel trapped,” Dickason said. “Our project was not just numbers on a page or sounds through a microphone; these were individuals with hopes, fears, and desires that just needed a platform to voice their opinions.”
“The Way I See It” will be shown at 5 p.m. on Friday, December 5th, in the Overby Center.