In January 2011, the Best Kept Secret crew began filming at JFK High school in Newark, NJ. We have spent 9 glorious months getting to know Ms. Mino and the boys in class and have found a heroine and a story far more compelling, inspiring, and heartbreaking than we ever could have imagined.
Now, we need your help to finish telling this remarkable story. But first, here is a synopsis, and introduction to our subjects:
BEST KEPT SECRET is a window into the world of a Newark, NJ public school teacher and her students with autism. It follows her struggle to help secure her students' futures during their final year of school before they turn 21, age out of the system, and are pushed out into the real world.
Janet Mino, an African-American single mother of four, has taught her class of six young autistic men for 4 years. They must graduate from JFK in the spring of 2012. The clock is ticking to find them a place in the adult world – a job or rare placement in a recreational center - so they do not end up where their predecessors have, sitting at home, institutionalized, or on the streets.
Matthew is the mischievous classmate, raised since age 5 by a foster mother. His birth mother, a heroin addict, left him with an abusive grandmother. Over the past year, Matthew has been trained by the school janitor to learn basic custodial duties. Matthew becomes verbal when there are food and girls around.
Erik is the class nerd -- smart, talkative, and great at following directions. He is a joyful person with "two moms"; a biological mother who is too ill to care for him, and a dedicated and loving foster mother. It is clear that Erik is the student most ready to take on the real world.
Rahamid has Down's syndrome, not autism, but came to Ms. Mino's class as a last resort. A young man with a violent streak, he has been kicked out of every other classroom in the school. With Ms. Mino's help, he has become much more functional, but is hindered daily by a crippling fear of plants. He was placed in the care of his grandmother due to his mother’s drug addiction.
Kareem has a smile that would melt even the coldest heart. He lives with his mother and her boyfriend. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He gets physical when he feels threatened or ignored.
Robert is the biggest mystery and heartbreak in the class. His father home schooled him until he passed away 4 years ago, and Robert is now cared for by his aunt, a recovering drug addict. His chaotic home life has posed a problem in the classroom, as he is absent half the time. He is a smart student who can read and spell but over the last year has been digressing in class.
Quran is the only student who has both of his parents raising him. He is a quiet soul who loves film. He is able to read and has control of most of his behaviors. Ms. Mino has high hopes Quran will find placement after school because of his good work ethic and parental support.
85 hours of footage later we are ready for our rough cut, Mr. DeMille. Over the course of the shoot we have learned how important it is that we get this story out there. Not just from the people in Newark but from families all over. This NY TIMES article does a particularly great job of elucidating the issue.
We now need money to pay our two incredibly talented editors, Matt Posorske and Jenny Golden, and craft a dramatic, emotionally compelling film that will transcend to audiences all over the world, hammering home the importance of a better support system for autistic young people after graduation.
We truly cannot do it without you.
Finally, If you are interested in investing in the film at a higher level than these donation categories, please email producer Danielle DiGiacomo at email@example.com
- (28 days)