How did the East Ramapo School District in NY drop from one of the best in the state to one of the worst?
Why did a little girl die in a fire in an illegally constructed house?
What are the ramifications of an isolated community of people controlling the politics of many?
OUTSIDER is a short documentary that explores the complex struggles between the community at large and the insular Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community as they live side by side in Rockland County, NY, with disharmony growing between their cultures, fracturing the once-thriving area.
Today activists are fighting for better education for students of both public schools and private yeshivas, fire officials are fighting the widespread epidemic of illegal housing and over development, and long time residents are reflecting back on how exactly this sudden and drastic change occurred. OUTSIDER is an inside view of what life is like in Rockland and how it has changed as the Ultra Orthodox Hasidic increasingly gain control of governmental and other positions of power.
In the public schools, budgets are consistently voted down, programs are being slashed, teachers laid off, and buildings are in dangerous disrepair. What once was one of the top school districts in New York State, East Ramapo is now ranked the lowest out of all the school districts. Former teachers, and principals, expose how desperate things have become and what is needed to save the public school system so that their children can still get an education.
In the Yeshivas, home to roughly 24,000 students, secular education is hardly taught, keeping these students from gaining even a basic understanding of common functions of society, widening the stark separation between their community and others in the area. Among those interviewed, a former Hasidic community member shares his advocacy and activism for a better secular education in the yeshivas.
FROM THE DIRECTOR & PRODUCER, NOAH GRAHAM
"Since I was in high school I have been drawn to films with a social cause. I want to support positive change in the world, and if a film I make can raise awareness and hopefully even motivate viewers to make their own change, I feel like I have contributed an improvement to the world. Making a film is not an easy task by any means, and therefore, it is through this love and passion to cause social change that drives me to make these films. This is not something I can choose not to do; I am restless without it.
Having grown up in Rockland County for over 14 years, I have lived through the change that has gone through the county, causing the deep division that is now happening between its residents. I have grown up with friends that have gone through the public school system and have seen their arts, theater, music, and sports programs cut out from under them. Their education has suffered drastically because of it. The worst part is it doesn’t have to be like this. Both communities could live neighboring each other peacefully.
As a long time resident of the area, I feel it is my responsibility to make this film and raise awareness about the happenings in the county. This film will call attention to the injustices these public school students are facing, the epidemic of overdevelopment and illegal housing, and encourage people to discuss these problems and how they might be fixed. As Louis D. Brandeis once said, "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” I hope this film serves as a light to help heal this area."
NOAH GRAHAM is an award-winning New York and Boston based filmmaker. Graham has worked on over a dozen short films, shot several documentaries, and worked on hundreds of educational and informational short-form videos.
Graham is the founder of Steadi Eye Productions LLC, a company focused on specialty camera movement production with drone, Steadicam, and gimbal technology. Graham has worked for a variety of clients such as Now This, NBC, Boston Preservation Alliance, The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), and Helping Hands. In OUTSIDER, Graham weaves together the personal and political, creating a documentary that hopes to change the system that has hurt so many.
OUR INTERVIEW SUBJECTS
Jean Fields, former Principal of Ramapo High, an East Ramapo High School
Naftuli Moster, formerly Hasidic, founder and Executive Director of YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education)
Steve White, Education Activist, founder of "The Power of Ten" blog on East Ramapo Education
Ari Herschkowitz, young former Hasidic
Rabbi Justin Shwartz, formerly Hasidic, Chairman of the Illegal Housing Task Force, Activist, Chief of the Spring Valley Fire Police
Ann Kraft, retired teacher and 50+ year resident of Rockland County
HISTORY OF ROCKLAND COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT
From the 1960’s through the 90’s Rockland County was home to the best schools in all of New York State. Not only were there a wide variety of classes offered from wood shop, to Japanese History, and ski club to Latin, every year a number of graduating seniors from across the district went off to college at the Ivy Leagues. The East Ramapo School District was a major attraction for new families looking for home where they could send their children to get the best education.
The change essentially began in 2005. Until then the school board was comprised of parents of public school students and members of the community, passionate advocates for quality public schooling. Heading the school board leading up to this time was Georgine Hyde, a holocaust survivor so fierce and passionate about the public school system it is said she single handedly was the reason the school district did not start to deteriorate sooner. It was with that year’s school board election, which resulted in her being removed from the board, that began the steep decline that the district has been in ever since. Almost every year following, a new Ultra-Orthodox member has been elected to the school board making it 100% at one point and currently eight out of nine members are Ultra-Orthodox.
The consequences of this change on the school board can be seen across the district, and has had devastating effects on the children going to school in the district. Compared to other districts throughout the state that regularly pass their school budgets, the Ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic voting block continually votes down the East Ramapo School Budget. In the schools, any “non-essential” classes have been cut. There are few to no music classes, art classes, theater programs, physical education classes. After school programs and sports teams have been cut. This leaves students, many of whom are African American, Haitian, and South and Central American, without a proper, diverse, and eclectic education system, one that, year after year, delivers worsening education. The school district that once was the best in the state, each year sending graduates to Harvard, Yale, M.I.T. and others, is now ranked as one of the worst as the graduation rates decrease.
OUTSIDER is a thesis film for Emerson College's Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree. Our crew spent many days filming and interviewing in Rockland County over the summer of 2018. Throughout the fall, the film will be edited, sound designed, and released to the public at the start of 2019.
The goal of this film is to both bring awareness to the affected communities about what is happening in their own neighborhoods, and to put pressure on the local and state government to address the consequences of neglecting the problems that become harder to uproot everyday.
These production days included transportation to bring the crew from Boston to Rockland County NY, and to feed them for their hard work. Above is an overview of the expenses. While Emerson College has provided a small stipend for initial costs, we are unable to cover the full cost of the film expenses ourselves.
By donating anything from $5 to $100, you are advocating for justice and the right to a proper education, safe and legal housing, and fair political processes. Furthermore, you are supporting young filmmakers who are trying to make pragmatic change in our communities.
Risks and challenges
This issue is a fiery topic in Rockland County. First hand, we have seen school board meetings, zoning board meetings, and other municipal meetings get heated. People’s well-being and children’s education are at risk. Making this film is a piece of activism, and with all advocacy comes the risk that their may be pressures much stronger that will seek to stop the release of this film. Nonetheless, we will persist.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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