Filmmakers to bring film, discussion of college access to Philly

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

To be the first in a family to attend college is a breakthrough moment that can help secure a student’s financial future and end a cycle of poverty. But for many low-income students, the process proves too foreign, the hurdles too high to overcome.

On April 9, Ritz East will screen, for free, a one-hour version of the 2012 film First Generation by filmmakers Adam and Jaye Fenderson (the latter a former senior admissions officer at Columbia University). The documentary, which garnered acclaim on the festival circuit, follows four diverse students as they fumble their way through the daunting and unfamiliar stages of the college admissions process.

Where do students whose parents or relatives never went to college, or students in school districts with just a handful of counselors with caseloads in the hundreds, go for guidance and advice? How do they choose schools that are good matches? What about the financial burden of application fees? What’s a FAFSA form?

A study by the Brookings Foundation found that only 8 percent of high-achieving, low-income students apply to selective colleges in the same way their wealthier peers do. The film explores the complex problems faced by the four young college aspirants as they deal with various issues from their homes and the institutional roadblocks that impede students like them from attending the right college, or attending college at all. There’s Donte, an athlete from the inner city; Jess, a small-town waitress; Keresoa, a Samoan warrior dancer; and Cecilia, a daughter of Mexican migrant field workers.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion that includes the filmmakers, Superintendent William Hite, Christina Santos of Philadelphia Futures, and Carlos Carmona, a first-generation college student attending the University of Pennsylvania. The discussion will be moderated by Inquirer education reporter Kristen Graham.

The event is part of the Go College! campaign, a national tour that has been bringing the documentary to theaters around the country. The campaign seeks to create dialogue and action around how to raise college-going rates in schools and communities nationwide.

To attend, RSVP here. The reception begins at 6 p.m., the film at 6:30 p.m.