Students Share Stresses in Fire House Film Project

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A Sept. 28 film screening and panel discussion showcased the Fire House film project, a time capsule of a film that will span at least half a decade, conveying the pressures facing this generation of teenagers and the communication divide that can develop between kids, parents and educators.

The Fire House, formed as a safe haven for local teens at St. Luke’s of the Mountains, has turned its focus in recent years to spreading awareness of the effects of stress and the pressures of expectation. The film features interviews from a number of teens, with candid perspectives on the high wire act of balancing life in and outside of school, along with adulthood’s expectations looming in the near future.

Among the film’s interview subjects, one student felt that he could not afford to miss school, despite the recent death of his brother. Another said the substantial workload and subsequent lack of sleep made her so ill she missed a week of school with an extra week’s worth of homework waiting for her when she returned to class. Still another mentioned a friend of his who had become so stressed over his poor grades that he saved up money for a gun for a fortunately thwarted suicide attempt.

Intended as an antithesis to the documentary “Race to Nowhere,” which also touched upon the pressures facing today’s youth, the film also reflects on positive school experiences such as supportive teachers and techniques for relieving stress.

However, though the struggles of growing up are well known, incidents such as the suicide of CV student Drew Ferraro are strong reminders of how prolonged stress and unhappiness can go unnoticed until much too late.

A panel of current CV High School students answered questions from the audience of parents and educators who attended the screening at the La Crescenta Library.

The panel included juniors Lucas Martos-Repath, Brandon Budwig, Jesse Sommers and seniors Zoya Sawaged, Jocelyn Males, junior Jessy Shelton and Dr. Paul Royer, LCSW.

Royer praised the kid-run mantra of the Fire House and the agency that it places in the hands of the kids.

“We have to engage these young people in what’s going on in their lives, not what we have as our agenda for them,” Royer said. “It’s about understanding what they’re going through and how they’re handling it.”

The communication gulf between kids and the adults in their lives was a central topic of the night.

“A lot of the pressures that we’re feeling are coming from places where we shouldn’t feel pressure. We should be feeling safe,” said senior Jocelyn Males. That sentiment was echoed by many of the other students, who said there was a palpable fear of rejection among students when thinking about bringing their school pressures and concerns up to parents and teachers.

Sommers said she had a good relationship with her parents, but said that many other students she knows have a much different home dynamic.

“So many people feel like their parents are out to get them rather than out to help,” said Sommers.

Janelle Evans, a counselor at Crescenta Valley High, said she felt discussions like this could help “teach the parents how to help their kids to create balance in their life,” something many of the students in the panel and film conceded they struggled with.

Pia Hugo, an economics teacher at CV High, said she would like to get the film into the hands of parents and teachers, as well as see more discussions of this type within the community.

“I think a dialogue would really be helpful, where you guys can be this honest, this transparent, but at the same time, teachers, parents and counselors could say, ‘Help us understand this.’”

According to Shelton, one of the Fire House’s major goals is to get the film shown to a larger audience, preferably at the high school.

“The Fire House Project” is also an ongoing endeavor. Interview subjects will be brought back to follow up on their initial reflections and a new generation of high schoolers will add their experiences to the film.

The Fire House is located at St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church at 2563 Foothill Blvd. For more information, email or