Her shoes are untied, her shirt is red, she’s avoiding eye contact, itching her knee, singing, “Row row row your boat gently down the stream,” she’s hungry, and she has a behavior disorder; ADHD.
On Oct. 2 students packed both floors of the Mabel Brown Room to watch the documentary by Dan Habib called “Who Cares About Kelsey?” and have a chance to talk to the film creator and the stars of the film.
This documentary showed the life of a girl going through high school struggling to make it to graduation while dealing with a behavioral disorder–Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.
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This behavioral disorder “is a problem with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination,” according to PubMed Health, the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Special Education Professor Tanya Sturtz led the event; “We applied to host a screening,” she said.
One of the requirements of hosting a screening is to make partnerships. The community partners list includes over 20 programs, groups, and agencies.
One hope Sturtz had for this event was to not only have a large showing but to open dialogue in her classes as well as other education classes on campus.
Kelsey, the film’s focus, not only suffers from ADHD but also from past memories of homelessness, sexual abuse, and her mother’s substance abuse, according to the film.
During Kelsey’s second attempt at sophomore year of high school, Somersworth High School in Somersworth, N.H. implemented new programs to help fight the low graduation rate.
One called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) is a school leadership team that helps the in-danger-of-not-graduating students find tutors, provide goals and an available support team.
The other program called RENEW is a structured school-to-career transition planning an individualized wraparound process for youth with emotional and behavioral challenges, according to the Institute of Disabilities website.
Sturtz used to work in a high school and said, “I taught many Kelseys. It’s a topic a lot of teachers struggle with.”
Habib said he chose to make a documentary on this school because of the new programs that were implemented.
Habib said that the reasons he created this film was because of his son and because he wants everyone to feel like they belong. Habib’s son has cerebral palsy and all he wanted for his son was to belong.
So he sent him to school. Habib said what he noticed was that his son was happy at school, with his friends.
That’s when he said he decided that his films portray something people need to see.
He said he created the documentary “Including Samuel” before making “Who Cares About Kelsey?”
Habib said he chose Kelsey specifically, after interviewing many students at Somersworth High School, because of all her difficulties.
In the video Kelsey described herself as a very volatile person. Teachers described her as volatile, disruptive and, by her own admission, “not a nice person” to be around, according to the “Who Cares About Kelsey” website.
When the film ended, and Habib, Kelsey, and JoAnne Malloy (an expert on dropout prevention and one of the teachers who helped Kelsey in high school) stepped up front, the audience cheered.
As a microphone passed around the audience, students, teachers, and community members not only asked questions but honored Kelsey for her strength.
“I just want to say, Kelsey you rock,” one audience member said and the crowd applauded.
One student asked what was one thing she learned from all this. Kelsey said, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help and teachers, don’t give up on children.”
Another student asked about the positive and negative effects of being called disordered.
Kelsey said, “Well everyone knows I’m a nut case now,” and the crowd answered with a resounding “No, you’re not.”
Kelsey said that while she did not like being called disordered, it did help when it came to tests since the teachers would make it a little easier for her.
After Kelsey’s comment, Habib asked the audience which made a bigger impact on their lives during high school: education or a social life.
The audience replied with social life. Habib said he believes that students with behavioral disorders shouldn’t feel left out or defeated by school but feel welcome.
A teacher grabbed the microphone and asked Kelsey, “What pushed you to get help?”
Kelsey, with a stern face, merely said, “I didn’t want to be in that school anymore.”
Later Kelsey said, “Everyone knew I needed help and no one gave it.” Until the PBIS and RENEW programs were implemented, that is.
With the help of these programs Kelsey graduated and now travels from school to school telling her story in hopes that it will make a difference.
Looking towards the future, Kelsey is now considering going to a full university or a community college. She also continues her work as a volunteer firefighter which she has been doing since high school.
Kaitlyn Coogan can be contacted at