Inner-City Education Success Profiled In The Providence Effect

The Providence Effect opens in select theatres today

The Providence Effect opens in select theatres today

As September comes to an end and children around that nation go back to school, DC’s education challenges still remain in the forefront. The efforts to improve DC’s school system still remains in the spotlight with Sunday’s Washington Post profile on DC Education Chancellor Michelle Rhee. With cities all over the country working to improve their public school systems, there is an interesting story in Chicago of a school that boasts a 100% college placement record. An amazing feat in a country where only a third of high school graduates go on to college. This school, Providence St. Mel, is the subject of The Providence Effect, a documentary opening in theatres around the DC area today.

The story of the school starts with founder Paul J. Adams III, an African-American man with activist roots in the 1960’s civil rights movement. After moving to Chicago’s troubled West Side he got a job at the Providence St. Mel as a guidance councilor. When the school was in danger of closing its doors, Adams raised the funds to purchase the school from the Sisters of Providence and set about a new goal: to turn Providence St. Mel into a first rank college prep school. However the story isn’t really about Paul Adams, but the education model he’s created to foster success from K-12.

The film opens with the graduation of the class of 2007 where students were not only called by name, but also by their college and major they would attend in the fall. The secret to their success is no secret in the film, Providence St. Mel believes in a strong sense of discipline and vision. In the morning every student recites the school mission statement and the teachers are held to the same high standard as the students. I was surprised to see Principal Jeanette DiBella work not behind a desk shuffling papers, but going from class to class observing teachers and students. In one scene a student is discovered not working on an assignment and both the student and teacher were called out. As DiBella says in the film she considers herself the instructional leader of the school. On the school’s website she is described as chief education officer.

However the model of Providence St. Mel appears to be paying off. The school’s success is currently trying to be replicated in the Chicago Public School system with a spin-off charter school that is also profiled in the film. Graduates go on to attend prestigious colleges and universities and has produced success for its alumni, which includes White House aide Gregory Canty.

The Providence Effect offers a look at a successful education model that left me wondering if something like that could be the answer for DC’s education crisis.

The Providence Effect opens in Washington, DC today at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, AMC Magic Johnson Theater in Largo, MD and AMC Shirlington Theater in Alexandria, VA.

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