The Providence Effect: The Amazing Story of An Inner City School

Rollin Binzer, director
Dinosaurs of the Future Productions
September 25, 2009

This big-screen film tells the story of Providence St. Mel, an inner-city Chicago private school that for thirty years has boasted a 100 percent college acceptance rate. Founder Paul J. Adams III may contend that the success of this independent (formerly Catholic) K-12 school is no miracle--it’s “what we’re supposed to be doing”--but it’s certainly exceptional in a city where relatively few students even make it through high school. You’ll get the story of how Adams took charge of the school in the 1970s when it was abandoned by the Archdiocese and full of gangs, drugs, and violence. You’ll also hear about today’s instructional methods, which afford flexibility to the classroom while empowering the principal and holding teachers accountable. This is all wonderful--but can its success be replicated within the public education system? Turns out that in 2006, St. Mel opened its own charter school, Providence Englewood, to prove that it could. Unfortunately, the film only gives cursory attention to how what we’d deem the most interesting part of this story. We get a brief mention of difficult union negotiations but scant attention is paid to how Providence Englewood actually operates, for example, or whether lottery admission instead of academic prerequisites (St. Mel has an entrance exam) demands any modifications to the school model. Still, in just two years, the charter school has posted respectable score gains. But it’s surely an inspiring and tantalizing movie, even if it skips the most titillating part of the plot. Watch the trailer here or see the film in theaters starting September 25.

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