A former Prairie Elementary student is trying to raise money to film a full-length documentary on one of that school’s most memorable teachers, Joel Dempsey.
Dempsey taught sixth grade at Prairie, spending two decades as a Shawnee Mission School District teacher, where he was known for organizing elaborate student performances. Andrew Clemons, a Prairie graduate who finished SM East in 2002, now works for a production company in Dallas, and said Dempsey’s life provides perfect fodder for an exploration of how much impact a single teacher can have on students.
“He’s been a mentor of mine in a lot of parts of life,” Clemons said. “Theatre, life, art. He’s just an amazing person.”
Clemons, who works on the TNT television show “Dallas,” took a week last year to film Dempsey at the summer camp he founded in Maine, where he installed an old airplane hangar that now houses a stage for performances. He used the footage from that week to produce a five-minute trailer for the documentary. He’s also launched a Kickstarter page seeking $30,000 to produce the film. (The Kickstarter fundraising period will expire July 3.)
Clemons said the film will explore Dempsey’s path from a kid in Philadelphia to a student on basketball scholarship at Park University, to his teaching at and controversial dismissal from Prairie, and finally to his current life running his camp in Maine.
“We want to broaden the spectrum of Joel’s story,” Clemons said. “We want to show how one teacher could change the lives of so many students.”
Here’s the trailer Clemons produced: