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Penn State Professor Boaz Dvir Releases Documentary ‘Class Of Her Own,’ Inspires Teachers Nationwide

Grab some popcorn, folks…and maybe some tissues.

Boaz Dvir, an associate professor at Penn State, released a documentary on the work of East Gainesville teacher Gloria Jean Merriex. Dvir’s documentary follows the story of how Merriex used innovative methods such as hip-hop, rap, and dance to teach her students music and reading.

Merriex’s school, Duval Elementary in East Gainesville, Florida, was severely underperforming and underprivileged, and the school scored an F on its state’s high-stakes standardized tests, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), in 2002. Within the following school year, Merriex changed her teaching methods completely and got her students to score an A in 2003.

Officials and educators were floored with the improvement Merriex made within just one year, later becoming a local celebrity within the community of Gainesville.

Her popularity caught the attention of Dvir while he was at the University of Florida, and Dvir decided to create a documentary following Duval Elementary after its incredible transition year.

Then, misfortune struck as Merriex died in May 2008 just three months before Dvir began filming the following school year in September.

However, as Dvir started filming, he realized the gaping hole left in Duval without her presence. It was then he decided to shift his focus to exploring Merriex as a teacher and the impact she had on the community of Gainesville.

Although Dvir couldn’t speak to Merriex, he met with her family, former students, colleagues, and community members to learn more about her as a person.

“I think I read everything about her,” Dvir said. “I also found it beneficial to read old studies that researchers had done on her teaching methods and spent two years in the school filming to see how the school changed without her.”

Without Merriex teaching, Dvir became increasingly skeptical that the school would even get a C on the following FCAT.

“I thought to myself, ‘I don’t have a documentary because who wants to see a documentary where the school fails,’ but it just showed me how much of a difference she made,” he said.

After meeting with her family and students, Dvir found that Merriex had not always been teaching with these methods but changed completely as a person once the 2002 FCATs revealed her school’s failures.

“She had come to a realization that she had let her students down and it changed her as a woman,” Dvir said. “Her kids said that she adopted a ‘tough love’ mentality and completely shifted the way she taught. She no longer used pacing guides and flipped her curriculum. Now, she devoted the bulk of the beginning of the school year to teach the tougher concepts to help them on the test.”

Essentially, Merriex was teaching almost all of the third to fifth-grade students math and reading, so after her passing, the school found it hard to recover.

Unfortunately, Duval Elementary closed in 2015, but Dvir credits Merriex’s achievements for keeping her school open for as long as it was.

Although the school shut down, Dvir sees the documentary as a story that is needed, given the current educational system.

“I hope people can see her passion and my passion transcend this medium and inspire and influence people,” Dvir said. “It’s more timely for today because of the need for Merriex’s educational structure in our current educational system, especially with young children of color in underperforming areas.”

“Class of Her Own” will be available for streaming on Tuesday, April 16, on Apple TV, Amazon, YouTube Movies, Xbox, AT&T U-Verse, Comcast, Cox, Spectrum, Verizon, Fios, DirecTV, Dish Network, Sling TV, and Google Play.

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About the Author

Maya Thiruselvam

Maya is a senior majoring in English from Deleware County, PA, and an associate editor for Onward State. She is a huge Phillies fan and thinks Citizens Bank Park should bring back Dollar Dog Night. When she's not talking to the Willard preacher you can find her rewatching episodes of Ted Lasso or The Office. To reach her, follow her on Instagram or Twitter: @maya_thiruselvam, or email her at [email protected].

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