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Jared Whitley: From bullies to alt dimensions: Five shows that (might) remind us of our school days

With the days growing a little shorter and the air growing a bit cooler, the chapter on summer 2017 is almost finished. But as you wipe tears from your warm weather-loving eyes, just think, the end of summer means the start of fall, which for many also means back to school.

That can be welcome news to (some) parents and terrifying news to (some) kids. Whether you were a kid who loved school or dreaded each week day, I've put together a list of school-centric movies to remind us of the highs and lows of school — and don't worry, this isn't just another excuse to talk about Spider-Man: Homecoming, although if you’d like to add that to the list — who am I to stop you?

5. "Stranger Things" (2016)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWxyRG_tckYThe first show on the list is also the most recent: Netflix’s ’80s kid-venture about strange happenings in small-town Indiana is a perfect blend of "Stand By Me," "ET," "Goonies" and the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon series. With plenty of scenes shot in the characters' junior high, this one is a solidly great back-to-school watch. The kids have the kind of friendship that makes junior high bearable, especially if you happen to, say, get caught in an alternate dimension with a monster. Alas, still two more months to see how their friendship holds up in Season 2.

4. "Mean Girls" (2004)

One of the best all-around comedies ever, Tina Fey’s delightful coming of age movie captures the jungle of high school through the POV of a girl who was raised in an actual jungle. Sure, school is full of confidence-eating bullies, but if you can manage to listen to your true friends, you might learn an important life lesson or two.

Also kudos to the casting team who put together a movie high school with actors who all look like they belong in high school. Imagine that!

3. Any of the Harry Potter movies (2001-11)

I mean, c’mon, would the Desert News put a list of movies together without Harry Potter? The longer the series goes, the less it becomes about school and the more it becomes about fighting He Who Must Not Be Named, so go with "Chamber of Secrets" if you can only do one. While all of the Potter films focus on the power of friendship, check out Harry's and Ron's faces at the end-of-school banquet when Hermione returns after being petrified by a basilisk. Plus, what could be better than a principle — headmaster in this case — cancelling finals?

2. "Community," season 1 (2009-10)

This one's an exception to my list, because it's a TV show rather than a movie, but exceptional is the right word to describe NBC's "Community." The show follows the adventures of seven eclectic characters at a fictional community college in Colorado, a group that includes a verbose former lawyer, a Polish/Arab pop culture junky with Asperger’s, a self-proclaimed anarchist and Chevy Chase. Unlikely friends in an unlikely place equals school show gold.

The first season is not just the series’ high point, but also arguably the best single season of non-animated comedy I’ve ever seen.

1. "American Graffiti" (1973)

While there is no shortage of teen movies out there (thank you, John Hughes), the thing that gets me about "American Graffiti" is that the characters all feel like genuine humans. And more than that, they feel like actual teenagers, with that bizarre mixture of overconfidence and insecurity.

Released in 1973, George Lucas made this, in part, as a pre-Vietnam nostalgia piece, which is only touched on at the end when we learn one of the characters is MIA. Lucas managed to capture the wistfulness, the angst, the fear and also the excitement of leaving high school and venturing off into the great unknown, as well as the pure joy of cruising around with friends on a Saturday night. Star Wars fans will appreciate seeing such a young Harrison Ford.

"American Graffiti" makes me wonder what other movies like this Lucas would have done if Star Wars hadn’t happen.

Well there you have it! Alternate dimensions and basilisks aside, these shows get at the good and bad of school life. What are your favorite school movies? Be sure to let me know in the comment section below.

Jared Whitley is an award-winning writer who comments on the intersections of politics and culture. Reach him on Twitter @whitleypedia — or don't, since Twitter is stupid.