In a 12News special presentation K-JAC NBC will air a feature length documentary created by it's sister station, KARE 11 in Minneapolis, on Friday night, August 30, 2019 at 7 p.m.

With unprecedented access over the course of a year, Love Them First: Lessons from Lucy Laney Elementary follows the determination of a charismatic north Minneapolis school principal, Mauri Melander Friestleben, as she sets out to undo history. 

Not only does Minnesota have the largest achievement gap between black and white children in the United States, Friestleben faced another seemingly impossible obstacle, with Lucy Laney at the bottom of the state's list of underperforming schools for two decades.

Under Friestleben's leadership, standardized test scores from most black students began rising for the first time, but when the school encounters a heartbreaking setback, Friestleben is forced to confront the true measure of student success at Lucy Laney. 

It's a story of inspiration, heartbreak, perseverance and the power of love.

“Anytime anybody sees a child that looks forlorn, lost, not taken care of — spread your arms, scoop them up, ask questions later, but love them first.”        — Mauri Melander Friestleben / Lucy Laney Principal

Love them First: Lessons from Lucy Laney began when KARE 11 reporter Lindsey Seavert and photojournalist Ben Garvin met Lucy Laney principal Mauri Melander Friestleben giving an impassioned speech to the North Minneapolis community after several deadly shootings near the school.

Seavert and Garvin sensed a greater story within the walls of Lucy Laney and together envisioned a year-long project inside the school, to document the lessons inside one of Minnesota's lowest performing schools, on the state's list of failing schools for almost two decades.

Friestleben and the Minneapolis Public School district generously gave Seavert and Garvin permission to proceed with their idea, and thanks to the supportive leadership at KARE 11, Seavert and Garvin became embedded in the school for one year.

As a storytelling team, they gained unprecedented access by slowly building trust in a news series spanning nearly two dozen stories, taking viewers on a journey through the daily joys and challenges in the school.

Friestleben's vulnerability and open heart as the school's leader allowed Seavert and Garvin a window into a world many don't often see. They documented the exceptional resilience of Lucy Laney's student council president as she grappled with her own future when she realized she was placed for adoption. They gave an up close view to the toll of violence in the neighborhood, sharing a principal's sorrow when gunfire ripped through the playground with children outside.

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KARE 11 and parent company TEGNA media believed the story outlined in this series could powerfully inspire educators and communities across the country. TEGNA then spearheaded a pilot project to turn the Lucy Laney news series into a documentary film.

Love Them First: Lessons From Lucy Laney Elementary is anchored by Garvin's award-winning photography and Seavert's sensitive storytelling style, and together the storytelling duo captured the purity and force of love transforming the school and its students.