A screening of “Discovering Gloria” will be held on April 27 at 6 p.m. in the Foster Auditorium. Hosted by the Penn State Libraries, the free event will present the rough cut of the 40-minute documentary.
“Discovering Gloria” was written, directed and co-produced by Boaz Dvir, a senior lecturer in film and journalism at Penn State. Dvir has also written, directed and produced the 2015 PBS documentary “A Wing and a Prayer” and “Jessie’s Dad,” a 2011 documentary.
The documentary presents the story of Gloria Jean Merriex, a Florida elementary schoolteacher in a devastatingly poor town, who took on the job of raising the school’s scores on standardized tests. When the school received an F on the exam, Gloria decided that she had to reinvent herself as a teacher in order to reinvent the school. The film discusses Merriex’s trials as she worked tirelessly for a year to bring the school from failing to receiving an A.
“Eventually Gloria threw away the curriculum and started to teach in her own way,” says Dvir. Her own way turned out to be unconventional, teaching math and science lessons with rap and hip-hop.
“She was knocked by her fellow teachers, and the administration tried to stop her,” says Dvir. But, the principal allowed Merriex to continue with her method and used the practice Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) to evaluate her teaching style. “Low and behold Gloria’s students did much better than everyone else,” says Dvir.
From there on out, Merriex started to coach other teachers and even started teaching lessons in other classes. By the time that the actual FCATS came around, the students had obtained the tools and the confidence to raise the schools grade up to an A. The transformation happened over the span of one school year, “which was unprecedented,” says Dvir.
Dvir was drawn to Merriex’s story because she took “just a little school in a rough neighborhood” to a school with one of the best academics in the nation.
Unfortunately, Merriex died in May 2008 and the elementary school lost the innovative spirit that had helped them succeed. As a result, Dvir says that it was harder to show the story to the audience.
Dvir is partnering up with co-producer Steve Whitney again for “Discovering Gloria.” Whitney is best known for producing “The Amityville Horror” and “The Haunting in Connecticut.” The film is narrated by Tamara Tunie, who played Dr. Melinda Warner on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Dvir plans to add another 20 minutes to the film, making it come to a solid hour long, and says that he is hoping that the feedback received after the screening will help to improve the documentary.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to view a rough cut of a film,” says Dvir. Dvir adds that it is a unique experience for students to view a film while it is still being created, and to offer comments and suggestions. “Its more of an interactive experience than it is a passive one,” says Dvir.