SAN LUIS, Ariz. — The academic accomplishments of elementary school students here are being profiled in “The G Word,” a documentary by a California filmmaker who wants to show that gifted minds can be found in unexpected places.
Mark Smolowitz, the director of the film, and his production team recently made their second visit to San Luis to tape interviews with students enrolled in Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth program.
Coordinated by the Gadsden Elementary School District, the program identifies and recruits gifted students to attend university-level summer classes.
Smolowitz began work on the documentary in 2015, visiting urban, suburban and rural areas around the nation in search of gifted students.
“I want to take (audiences) all over the country, to places where gifted children wouldn’t be expected to be found. I want them to be surprised,” he said during his most recent visit to San Luis.
Believing brilliant young minds could be found in places besides predominately Anglo, well-to-do neighborhoods, Smolowitz’s search took him to communities in Washington state, Minnesota, Maryland, Georgia and California, among other locations.
Then in 2017, he learned about the success stories among students in the Center for Talented Youth program in the Gadsden district. He made his first visit to San Luis last year to begin interviewing district officials who coordinate the program, as well as current and former students enrolled in it.
“Not all gifted people are going to shine like Mark Zuckerberg. They can be black, brown, immigrants, Latinos, Native Americans. The question is who is born to be considered gifted and why? Through research and contacts I learned about this place and I found it to be amazing.”
The first segment that profiles San Luis identifies the city as the second lowest income zip code in the country, and features interviews with past and current district officials who have had roles in implementing the Johns Hopkins program in San Luis schools. Among them are the program coordinator Homero Chavez, math teacher Jesus Arrizon and Everardo Martinez, the district’s then-director of state and federal programs.
Also interviewed for the documentary are former Gadsden students who took part in the program and later went on to universities and into professional careers, among them Karen Lara, Arturo Garcia and Jonathan Bazua. They offer their opinions about what the district does that is special and why students in San Luis are excelling.
Smolowitz said that in San Luis he has found a community that places high value on education, where parents push their children to go to college, family finances notwithstanding.
Apart from the district’s involvement in the Johns Hopkins gifted student program, he said, the district relies on other tools to promote student success, among them its music programs that, in themselves, help motivate students to excel academically.
“This film contends that the children of migrant Latino families and of Spanish-speaking families can be intelligent, it shows what is occurring here. The deeper I go into the story, the more I realize that this community is very special. The value that (residents) place on education is impressive.”
He noted that at a time when national attention has focused on prominent families who cheated to have their children admitted to prestigious universities, Gadsden district students in grades fifth and up are taking and passing the ACT college entrance exam to be able to qualify for the Johns Hopkins’ gifted student program.
“This is the insanity of our country. But these children are great independently of the exam. Here we have an opposite dynamic: if the children go to college then their parents will want to earn a GED and learn English. That is a fabulous effect. To me this is absolutely the most American story that one can hear.”
Smolowitz expects to finish work on “The G Word” in time for it to be presented in the Tribeca and other film festivals around the country — but also, he expects, in time to be relevant during the 2020 presidential campaign.