Documentary about Jackson Elementary’s rock band to air Sunday

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

The documentary Home will be shown at 6 p.m. this Thursday in the Jackson Elementary School music room and again at 7 p.m. Sunday at Hawthornes Beer Cafe on 11th between Catharine and Fitzwater Streets.

The Sunday screening will coincide with the airing of the 60-minute documentary on public television.

Students at Jackson in South Philadelphia, with the help of music teacher Chris Argerakis, have embraced rock ‘n’ roll with their band called Home.

Argerakis started the band in 2010, upgrading from the recorder ensemble that he originally had. As the kids got older and more experienced on their instruments, the band’s popularity began to grow, and they started performing gigs. More and younger students joined up.

A few years after the band’s inception, starting in the 2015-16 school year, documentarian and filmmaker Ben Kalina began filming the group. He wanted to spark conversation about how the District’s large funding cuts at the time were affecting students and teachers. Argerakis was working with the band largely on his own time, and he and other teachers didn’t get raises for five years.

Kalina, explaining what he hopes the film will accomplish, said,“Hopefully, it will help cast a light on why teachers deserve to be paid like professionals and all of the work that goes into everything the teacher does.

Argerakis almost had to leave the district because of the strain of the pay freeze and working 15-hour days to make ends meet.

Jackson did not have the money to fund any extracurriculars, and as the contract stalemate went on for years and teachers did not get any raises, Argerakis helped Home rehearse, accompanied the band to gigs two or three days a week, and gave private music lessons four days a week — all while working a full-time teaching position.

With most of his band members about to graduate and attend different high schools, Argerakis was not sure whether he would be able to continue to run Home. A new teachers’ contract was agreed upon in June, and it gave teachers raises — and some back pay — and allowed the program to continue.

“After talking with Chris, I could see how worn out he was, really just at the end of his rope,” Kalina said.

Kalina hopes that people will not only be entertained and moved by his documentary, but will also understand more of what goes on behind the scenes at schools and how much work everyone, not just the teachers, puts in every day.

Former Jackson principal Lisa Kaplan is another main character in the film.

“Especially principal Kaplan brought a lot into the school,” said Kalina. “She works as a principal, a nurse, a secretary, and even as a superintendent at times.”

Last week, the School District of Philadelphia announced an initiative to partner with arts groups in the city to bring music education to as many students as possible, especially instrumental music.

The documentary will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday on WHYY.