Documentary shot at Hampshire High School premieres (Sun-Times Media)

by Emily McFarlan Miller

HAMPSHIRE — It was a long two days in late January for making the short film at Hampshire High School, students remembered.

It was a lot of walking back and forth in the hallways, said junior Amy Berggren, 17, of Pingree Grove. A lot of opening and shutting lockers, said her sister Kristin Berggren, 14, a freshman.

It was a lot of sitting on the floor in an empty classroom, said senior Lindsay Alberth, 17, of Hampshire. And a lot of waiting while other parts of the class were filmed in close-up, she added.

“But then the veterans came in with the desks,” said junior Nolan Coyle, 16, of Gilberts.

That was the climax not only of the two days spent making the 10-minute video “Where Are The Desks?” at Hampshire High School, but also of the short film itself.

That film, made by award-winning documentary filmmaker Larry Cappetto, premiered Tuesday night in the auditorium of the high school where it was filmed.

In the film, a class of about 30 students — played by Hampshire middle and high school students — find their classroom empty on the first day of school, save for their teacher, a blue star flag and a question written on the chalkboard: “What have you done to earn to earn the right to sit at your desk?”

When the students answer that question, their teacher tells them, they can have their desks. When, by the end of the school day, they can’t, she says, “I’m going to show you.”

That’s when about 45 veterans of the U.S. military stream into the classroom, carrying the desks, some alone, some in pairs, gripping a desk between the two of them. They are the ones who “paid the price so you could have the freedom to get an education,” says the teacher, played by Hampshire High School French and drama teacher Jennifer Steljes.

True story

That’s a story Cappetto has said he has wanted to make “for some time.”

It’s a true story, the Waukegan native said, “about a classroom experience of honor and duty.” It happened in 2005 in Martha Cothren’s social studies classroom at Robinson High School in Little Rock, Ark.

Cothren, whose father is a World War II veteran, was a special guest Tuesday at the film premiere. She said she’d gotten the idea after another teacher mentioned having trouble getting students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

“It’s all in honor of you,” she told the Hampshire- and Burlington-area veterans who were featured in the film and attended its premiere.

“You are our heroes. You wear the uniform, you pay the price, you bear the burden to keep America free. We owe you a debt we will never be able to repay.”

Filming the story of Cothren’s classroom, Lindsay said, “felt so real. It felt like we were the real kids in the story.”

“It was more than I expected. I knew the veterans would come in with the desks at the end, but I didn’t know it would be so emotional,” student Nolan added.

“I never really thought about the little details of what our veterans gave us, like our desks.”

For the rest of the story, read Documentary shot at Hampshire High School premieres (Sun-Times Media).

Photo credit: Michael Smart for Sun-Times Media.