WATTS LEARNING CENTER
Our story takes place in one of the most infamous two square mile blocks in all of America: Watts. A city whose name automatically invokes the word “Riots,” as if the two were a call and response. A city that is still largely defined by, and has never quite escaped from, the infamous 1965 uprising in which pent up racial tensions exploded into an outburst of violence and destruction that lasted a week, but have been seared into our nation’s memory ever since. And while decades have come and gone, Watts — with some of the nation’s highest rates of homicide, poverty, and single-parent households — has never fully turned the corner. However, one small school with a big heart, the Watts Learning Center, is fighting to prove how a school and a community, working hand-in-hand, can change each other for the better.
Watts Learning Center is an innovative charter elementary and middle school with an uncommon, community-based approach to education. Gene and Sandra Fisher founded WLC with the strong conviction that building quality schools was the best way to combat what seemed to be an unbreakable poverty cycle of African Americans and Latinos in South Central, LA. They determined that a quality education is the only way to truly “change the narrative,” and overcome the many disproportionate, systemic obstacles in place for its youth to succeed. With unshakeable, if not contrarian, optimism, WLC opened its doors in 1997 across the street from one of the most notorious housing projects in LA — Nickerson Gardens. Twenty years later, it has blossomed from a school of two students into an elementary school and a middle school that educates almost one thousand children from underserved areas of South Los Angeles. With an Academic Performance Index of 852 despite a high student poverty rate, WLC has not only greatly surpassed average test scores from surrounding schools, but is now on par with many schools in affluent, white suburbs of Los Angeles.
A School Grows in Watts is an intimate, character-driven feature documentary that tells the story of an overachieving charter school in its namesake neighborhood in South Los Angeles, and those unique individuals who come together to make it so. This film is a uniquely Los Angeles story. Shot primarily over the course of the past four years – during the Trump Presidency – it is also uniquely a 2020 story of our time, and crucial moment. Narrative highlights of several notable local, national and international events, always viewed through the lens of our characters, school and neighborhood, include: The 2016 Presidential Election, President Trump’s Inauguration, 25th Anniversary of the 1992 LA Uprising, the tragic deaths of Nipsey Hussle and Kobe Bryant, 2019 LAUSD Teachers Strike, the Covid-19 Pandemic and shock to school systems and educators and students, and the 2020 BLM Protests sparked by the murders of George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many more before them.
Our approach, storytelling technique and creative decisions will be executed to create understanding, empathy, inspiration, and models for progress. Perhaps most importantly, ASGIW will work to subtly debunk misconceptions about Watts, and will illuminate positive stories of success and hope. Rather than focus on the negatives that are too often disproportionately highlighted in popular media about South Central, ASGIW tells the more nuanced story of what is continuing to emerge from the fire in Watts – that of a community striving to turn the corner, in microcosm, through a noteworthy, ‘by any means necessary’ approach to education.