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Up Heartbreak Hill

Take Action

Take Action around 'Up Heartbreak Hill'

  • Thomas describes his community as being like the "third world." Survey your region to find communities or neighborhoods that might also fit that description and engage with residents to plan a turn-around.

  • Explore anti-poverty and/or cultural preservation organizations serving young people living on reservations and find out how you can help.

  • Host a family screening that includes a facilitated discussion between elders and teens about the role of ethnic heritage and expectations about preserving that heritage.

  • Host a college fair that includes resources specifically for students who are the first in their families to attend college. Consider establishing a mentoring system that pairs adults in your community who have earned college degrees with high school students who want to pursue higher education but don't have family members to provide advice about application procedures, choosing the right school, financial aid and strategies for success once they get to school.

  • Host a fundraiser to help defray college costs for Native American or others from disenfranchised communities. Alternatively, raise funds to help schools in communities with limited resources to create support systems designed to enable all students to graduate high school and transition to apprenticeships, career training or college.

Get informed about the issues in the film and lead a discussion in your community.

Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide

Up Heartbreak Hill is a moving look at a new generation of Americans struggling to be both Native and modern. Thomas and Tamara are track stars at their rural New Mexico high school. Like many teenagers, they are torn between the lure of brighter futures elsewhere and the ties that bind them to home. For these teens, however, home is an impoverished town on the Navajo reservation, and leaving means separating from family, tradition and the land that has been theirs for generations.

Like all teens, these high school students grapple with forming identities that both separate them from and link them to their families. Their struggle provides audiences with a chance to examine an ironic twist on a very American tale about pursuit of success, where success requires thriving in a culture that was once bent on the annihilation of the pursuers' people. The result is a compelling illustration of the challenge to find comfort and strength amidst alienation and discrimination.

Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students will watch video clips that provide glimpses into the lives of two high school seniors who live in New Mexico on the Navajo reservation. They will then analyze a current issue that Native Americans face (college completion) and will consider factors that might contribute to their own decisions either to enter or to complete college. Students will then explore different strategies that might be used to address this problem.

Reading List

Delve Deeper

This multi-media resource list, compiled by Gina Blume of Monroe Township Public Library, provides a range of perspectives on the issues raised by the POV documentary Up Heartbreak Hill.

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