A Documentary in the Making

OYLER, a forthcoming documentary film by Amy Scott, tells the story of a Cincinnati public school fighting to break the cycle of poverty in its Urban Appalachian neighborhood. Part of the growing community schools movement, Oyler School is a one-stop-shop for its students and their families, combining academic, health, and social services under one roof.

Based on the award-winning Marketplace series “One School, One Year,” OYLER takes viewers through a year at the school, focusing on principal Craig Hockenberry’s mission to transform a community, and on senior Raven Gribbins’ quest to become the first in her troubled family to finish high school and go to college. We follow Raven and her classmates as they get medical treatment right at school, rather than waiting hours at the local clinic, and as they get glasses at the school’s own vision center. We’re there as they learn how to dress for interviews and eat at a nice restaurant downtown; and as they make their way toward graduation and life beyond high school.

Roughly half of the children in our public schools are from low-income families. The documentary explores this question: if education is the great equalizer, what does it take to help disadvantaged kids succeed in school and move out of poverty? Could Oyler School be a model for a national solution?

The Beginnings

When I first visited Oyler in February 2012, the old neighborhood school on Hatmaker Street was being renovated. The teachers and students had moved up the hill to a temporary space a mile or so away. It was that school where I reported my first story about Oyler, which aired on Marketplace as part of a series about poverty and education. The temporary space was a typical mid-20th century school – a squat brick building with cinder block walls and fluorescent lighting. Nothing to write home about.

Before I left that day, someone encouraged me to drive by the old school in Lower Price Hill. It would be re-opening in August, they told me, with a brand new vision clinic and a daycare and preschool serving kids as young as six weeks old.

So, on my way back to the hotel, I drove down the winding roads into the Lower Price Hill historic district. It was the golden hour, just before dusk. And there it was. Amidst the empty lots and rundown row houses, a massive 1930 brick-and-terra-cotta school practically glowed in the waning sunlight.

An idea started to take shape. This was more than a five-minute radio story. This had to be a documentary film.

Update: July 2014

OYLER is in post-production and we’re raising finishing funds on Kickstarter. Follow us on Twitter @OylerDoc for the latest.