Student filmmakers recruited to screen film at U.S. Capitol

Rep. Mike Honda (D.-Calif.), left, meets with Sarah Ybarra, Jeffrey Kuhr and Alexia Welch at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. prior to a screening of the Lawrence filmmakers' documentary, No

When Lawrence High School teacher Jeffrey Kuhr and two of his film students were asked to screen their documentary at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., he began to realize what a groundswell of national support the project was receiving … literally.

“We took the elevator down to the bowels of the Capitol building and walked through these really creepy tunnels with exposed pipes and wires. We literally were in the bowels of democracy,” Kuhr says.

“Being in the basement seemed oddly appropriate for us. It was the perfect setting because if anything happens with ‘No Child Left Unrecruited,’ it’s going to happen from the ground up.”

At the request of Rep. Mike Honda (D.-Calif.), Kuhr and students Alexia Welch and Sarah Ybarra were invited Tuesday to show their movie in front of about 50 political insiders and members of the press corps.

What began months ago as a school project in Kuhr’s broadcast media class had turned into the rabble-rousing, half-hour documentary, “No Child Left Unrecruited.” The investigative piece hinged on a clause buried in the 670-page No Child Left Behind Act that requires schools to make available every student’s name and contact information to the military – or risk forfeiting federal aid.

Honda is introducing a new amendment to the domestic initiative when it comes up for renewal this year that would require an opt-in policy instead of an opt-out.

“Getting up in front of everybody was the craziest part because we didn’t know who was in the crowd,” Ybarra says. “It was a mix between morbid fear and extreme happiness to have those people there watching it.”

Reporters from the Associated Press, Congressional Quarterly, Army Times and even NBC Japan interacted with the girls during a Q&A following the presentation.

“A lot of them were surprised that we had the nerve to ask a lot of these questions in the film,” says Ybarra, who will be a senior at LHS this year. (Welch graduated in May.)

The trip represented the first time either Ybarra or Welch had traveled to the nation’s capital. They went without parents, instead being chaperoned by Kuhr and his wife, Shelle Rosenfeld.

Ybarra says, “It’s such a different crowd than to who we’ve showed it before – like the Unitarian church in Kansas City. These people were much more educated about it because it’s their job to know this stuff. Instead of being more of an informative movie, it was showing more of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a law that they deal with.”

Kuhr points out he’s tried to emphasize from the beginning that meaningful schoolwork can occur and extend beyond one’s local schools to have an impact.

“It shows that there are issues that impact teenagers every day. Rarely are teenagers asked about them. This was a way for a couple teenagers to get their voice out there, and to ask questions and demand answers from those in power,” he says.

While the supreme goal for the three is that the film helps affect a policy change, they’ve found the entire process to be rewarding in and of itself.

“It’s a great example of how much power the people really have,” Kuhr says. “We were joking yesterday how the White House used to be called the People’s House, and now you can’t get anywhere near it.”