Welcome to Commie High
In-depth exploration of Community High School in Ann Arbor, MI, one of the sole survivors from America's early 70s "free schools" movement, now a thriving public school.
Directed by Donald Harrison
Produced by Donald Harrison
Editor, Co-Producer: David Camlin
Music Supervisor & Composition: Ingrid Racine
Executive Producers: Jay Sandweiss, Fred Collin, Melanie Riley-Green, Richard Kaufman
Camera, Audio: Donald Harrison
Additional Camera & Audio: David Camlin
A 7 Cylinders Studio Production
WELCOME TO COMMIE HIGH explores an experiment in public education: Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
"This is terrific! I loved every second of it." Ken Burns, American filmmaker
The film begins by documenting the school's humanistic, anti-establishment origins in the early 1970s. By the '90s, enrollment demands for this alternative, small school led to a wild craze of long lines, camp outs and convoluted lottery systems for students hoping to attend. Today, Community High stands as one of the last public schools from America's "free school" movement.
Filmed over the course of a full school year, we see how the "Commie High" model has evolved to reflect the world around it and shows us what's possible within public education when "no" is not the standard answer.
Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2023
Copyright Date: 2020
DVD ISBN: 1-948745-92-5
"This is terrific! I loved every second of it. It interweaves, seamlessly it seems, the past and the present. It was funny and moving and topical and interesting. My attention never wavered for a second."
Ken Burns, American filmmaker
"These are dark days for American education: overcrowded classrooms, dejected teachers, and dull curricula. Welcome to Commie High is a bolt of lightning, jolting us out of our cynicism and complacency. This superb film reminds us how much our students can learn, if we give them the freedom - and the inspiration - to do so."
Jonathan Zimmerman, Professor of History of Education, University of Pennsylvania, Author, Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools
"What a gem - incredibly well done. This film showcases an experiment in American education - and how it has survived - through powerful personal stories, archival materials, and music. It's all quite compelling."
Carrie Hatcher-Kay, Ph.D., Partners in Healing
"Moving, illuminating, instructive, and inspiring! This extraordinary documentary illuminates possibility; its subtitle could be, Lessons for America from a Small School in Michigan. It captures a vital sense of what schools could be or should be (but are not yet) in a functioning democracy. Every parent and teacher, administrator and policy maker, every high school student, and anyone who cares about the sorry state of our schools and wants to work for something better should see this film."
Bill Ayers, Author, To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher and Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Reflection and Ethical Action in the Classroom
"How great to see the range of learning experiences! The exuberance of the youngest and oldest - where teachers, like the adults-to-be, were not afraid to be in love with life and each other. This film fills me with hope."
Deborah Meier, Founder, Central Park East Secondary School, Founding Principal, Mission Hill School, Educator, Advocate, and Founder of the modern small schools movement
"Welcome to Commie High shines a spotlight on alternative education, illuminating the powerful possibilities for learning, growing and relating within community. That Community High has endured, and is actually thriving, demonstrates that students and families are seeking choice. Educators, social scientists, historians and community activists will be inspired by this amazing film to re-commit to a vision for holistic education that respects adolescent development, progressivism, and relationships in the context of community."
Mary Jane Eisenhauer, EdD, Executive Director, First Things First Porter County, Professor Emerita, School of Education and Counseling, Purdue University Northwest
"This film may be specific to a particular high school experience, but it has a universal scope and the ability to provoke personalized memories and remind us what made our own high school experience unique. Most of all, it taps into an optimistic passion for education with a lesson to remind ourselves of what's important in our public education system."
Nick Alderink, The Michigan Theater
"Welcome to Commie High is a feel-good success story centered on American public education, something you don't hear often enough these days."
Dennis Perkins, Portland Press Herald
"Communities are in desperate need of examples that can expand our imagination around the possibilities and potential of public schooling. Welcome to Commie High tells the story of a school that was born out of educators' desire to honor the humanity in every student and has continued to inspire students, families, and the local community for the past 40 years. This narrative weaves in the past and present brilliantly, tracing the making of a community in which students feel seen and empowered. This film reminds us of the power of public schools to engage young people as citizens in the now even as we prepare them to create a compassionate, just, and healthy world in the future."
Dr. Sonia M. Rosen, ISTR Associate Director, Inquiry and Reflective Practice, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
|DVDs include public performance rights.
DVD includes English closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing, and scene selection.
Awards and Festivals
Ann Arbor Film Festival
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... more Reviews
"Welcome to Commie High enables us to be immersed in a place of learning that is truly student-centered. Teaching is not about standardizing learning, but is instead about valuing its most precious commodity - the students. This film is a powerful reminder of the value of alternative thinking that can lead to successful action and advocacy. We also see the struggles and changes to make it work. As a teacher of students who want to teach, Welcome to Commie High will be a springboard to talking about the strength their students can have when allowed to be visible and valued in their school community."
Kevin D. Cordi, Assistant Professor of Education and Literacy, Ohio University Lancaster