Derek Grace’s look at an inner-city Chicago grade school’s efforts to inspire its students debuted at Black Harvest last year. The doc also has screened at the Oak Park and Chi-Town Multicultural fests.
The setting for Grace’s project is Spencer Elementary Technology Academy, located in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, an area known for high rates of crime and poverty. Dedicated to using the love of learning, particularly technology-enabled education, to help their charges better their futures, Spencer annually devotes a week each year to tasking students in each class, from pre-K to 8th grade, to learn about a college and present their research as part of a mandatory competition. With high school graduation and college matriculation rates alarmingly low within the African-American community, Spencer’s College Week functions in an aspirational manner, giving the students hope and a sense of the possibilities education can provide. Various administrators, teachers, students, and parents comment on the importance of the exercise, with a dose of friendly competition thrown in for extra-motivation. Grace’s film is a very homegrown production, full of show-and-tell sequences, slideshows, talking heads, and very basic filmmaking that limit its reach to public television, but it’s undeniably well-intentioned in its offer of a positive message about the potential of education to make a real difference in children’s lives.