SAN DIEGO — A documentary on the unique history of San Diego’s Patrick Henry High School premiered this weekend.
“Give Me Liberty: The Early Years of Patrick Henry High” tells the story of when the school participated in the Model Schools Program, which was designed to inspire students to think independently and take on more responsibility. An open campus, flexible electives and enhanced tutoring were hallmarks of the program.
The school’s current students served as the location crew, camera and sound operators end editors for the film, and composed and performed its soundtrack.
FOX 5 spoke with students from the school’s class of 1971 about the film.
“I was part of the very first class that went all the way through Patrick Henry, beginning from 1968 through ’71,” said seven-time Emmy award-winner David Plaut, who produced and directed the film. “Our high school was brand new and it was a very exciting time for all of us. But a lot of other schools opened in the ’60s. What set Patrick Henry apart was that they were embarking upon the Model Schools Program — one of only seven schools in the country — to take on modular scheduling, which replicated the college experience. It gave us as students unprecedented freedom that we never had before to manage our own time, to be able to pick electives, to be able to get special tutoring.”
“Many, many people were successful at that, and were able to organize their time, and there were those that didn’t do so well, and I think that was kind of the demise of the mod system that we started with,” said Scott Abeldson.
“This project to me is really important because I think it’s extremely important to know what came before,” said Matthew Kalal, the school’s music director. “How did things evolve? How did things build?”
“All of the images that you will see in the film were all unavailable at the time and we had to look for it,” Abeldson added. “So I spent countless hours, hundreds and hundreds of hours, combing through annuals in the library.”
“We had, I believe it was six or eight young people from Patrick Henry High School that were in the film department, who were so enthusiastic, they were so excited about the project,” said Leslie LeTorneau. “And I think they realized that we were probably their grandparents’ age and that we were students once and that we went through a lot of the same things they went through. They were just terrific to work with.”
“I think everyone was kind of disappointed that it wasn’t something that couldn’t be continued,” LeTorneau added. “I think for a lot of us, me included, it was much more freedom than I was used to, and I probably didn’t handle it as well as I could have. But it was such a unique thing and I wish I had known how unique it was at the time.”
“It was a level of responsibility that many of us had embraced, others not so easily,” Plaut added. “But the fact that it was tried here at that time was very exciting for all of us, and I thought it was a story that needed to be told.”