UF College of Education film screening Sept. 26 shines light on innovative inner-city teacher

Discovering Gloria Title CardDirected and produced by award-winning University of Florida documentary filmmaker Boaz Dvir, “Discovering Gloria” tells the story of former Gainesville Duval Elementary School teacher Gloria Jean Merriex’s transformation into a trailblazing innovator and a national model. 

“Discovering Gloria” screens Sept. 26 at 6:30 pm at Lincoln Middle School in Gainesville. The 90-minute program, which is sponsored by the UF College of Education’s Lastinger Center for Learning, includes opening remarks by Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dan Boyd and a post-screening panel discussion with UF leaders, professors and researchers. The event is free and open to the public. 

“Gloria’s instinctive innovations have greatly informed our work,” said UF Lastinger Center Director Don Pemberton, who worked closely with Merriex. “She showed what an incredible difference a master teacher can make in the lives of vulnerable children.” 

In 2008, Merriex received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to create a national curriculum using her innovations. The next day, she suffered a fatal diabetic stroke. 

The Sept. 26 documentary post-screening panel features Pemberton; Prof. Thomasenia Adams, associate dean for research at the UF College of Education; Prof. Elizabeth Bondy, director of the UF College of Education’s School of Teaching and Learning; Alachua County School Board Member Leanetta McNealy; Alachua County Public Schools Fine Arts Facilitator Angela Terrell; and University of Texas Assistant Prof. Emily Bonner, who’s flying in to participate in the event. 

The panel also features two of the 35 former Merriex students expected to attend: Charlie Brown, a UF premed junior, and Jasmine Patterson, a Santa Fe College freshman.

An inspiring 40-minute documentary, “Discovering Gloria” shows Merriex engaging her math and reading students at the most effective levels through her innovations, which included hip-hop and dance routines. 

In the film, Pemberton, Bondy and others who examined Merriex’s methods describe how she broke vital new ground.

“She didn’t move to using music because she studied Howard Gardner’s work about multiple intelligences,” Bondy says in the film. “She moved to using music and movement and the other strategies that she used because she studied her students.” 

“Discovering Gloria” also shows how Merriex helped Duval leap from an F on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in 2002 to an A the following year. 

“Gloria’s innovative approach of teaching her students using rhythm, rhyme and movement is legendary in the Duval Elementary School community,” Superintendent Boyd said. “Through this documentary, people outside that community will also have an opportunity to learn about Gloria’s methods and her many contributions to education.”