High school is a time-honored American tradition, and students who attended John McDonogh High School say that treasured experience was true for them as well. School pride was fundamental at the fabled 7th Ward institution founded in 1902, once tops in the city for competitive sports and marching bands. The high school closed this academic year for renovations.
Personal impressions of the high school were captured in a student-produced documentary short, “Trojan Pride,” to be screened at 6 p.m. Monday, June 30, at Cafe Istanbul, 2372 St. Claude Ave., along with presentations by alumni and displays of student artwork.
Many students and alumni were dismayed by the depiction of John McDonogh in “Blackboard Wars,” a reality show filmed inside the high school last year. The show’s six episodes primarily focused on negative aspects of the school, including hallway fights and poor test scores, which don’t represent a full picture, according to students and teachers.
“Blackboard Wars” honed in on the “edgy stuff,” science teacher Richard Stall said. Most daily school activities are much more mundane: “kids going to class, doing what they have to do to graduate,” he added.
In an effort to show the school in a more positive light, instructor Philip Spence engaged students enrolled in a fine-arts survey class to produce their own documentary film with a more positive take on “The Mac.”
Tony Petit, a junior, “wanted to change that up, showing that John Mac is not all bad.”
“There’s more good than bad going on there,” the first-time film director said.
University of New Orleans film student Jacob Hoyson demonstrated to the class how to handle a camera and ask open-ended questions of students, alums and teachers to film their responses.
Petit made a list of interview questions, including what kinds of reactions students get when they say they attend John McDonogh and asking them to describe their fondest memories.
“It was my first time,” said Petit, who had never even made a video on a smartphone.
The film highlights a project undertaken by the science club, which took second place in the geo-science category at a national competition this year. Several students traveled by bus to Houston to compete in the annual CSTEM (communication, science, technology, engineering and math) Challenge, where they took two awards.
McDonogh students also helped produce a monthly radio show, “Cross Town Conversations,” on WBOK-AM, choosing the topics, questions and interviewees.
“We can’t wait to go home and wake up the next morning just to walk through these doors and give people something positive to talk about,” said Raven Simmons, a senior filmed in “Trojan Pride.”
As Petit began filming, he was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reactions.
“They were very happy about the school. They loved it,” he said.
Though he had transferred to John McDonogh that semester, he felt as if he were among family.
Other students praised the dedication of teachers.
Eighteen-year veteran teacher Donald Moore said John McDonogh students are no different from students at any other high school. They need teachers who support them to reach their potential and won’t give up, he said in the film.
“I just wish I could have graduated from John Mac,” said Petit, who will attend a different high school in the fall.
The screening of “Trojan Pride” is free and open to the public.