The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
One of the great success stories in American education is Providence St. Mel School, at 119 S. Central Park on Chicago's West Side. This is a far from advantaged area where gangs and drugs are realities, and yet the school reports that for 29 straight years, it has placed 100 percent of its high-school graduates in colleges. Of course this figure benefits from the school's policy of expelling troublemakers, but it also reflects its commitment to providing deserving students with a quality education.
"The Providence Effect," a new documentary, charts the school's growth from a time when an existing Catholic high school was scheduled for closure by the Archdiocese of Chicago. A remarkable educator named Paul J. Adams III began at the school as a counselor, was named principal, raised funds to keep the school open as a private academy dedicated to college prep and later expanded to a full K-12 range. It boasts that in the most recent seven years, half its students have gone to first-tier, Big Ten and Ivy League schools.
Three years ago, Providence St. Mel also opened Providence Englewood Charter School, starting at kindergarten to nurture students at the dawn of their school days. The results are impressive. They draw from the same neighborhood pool. Their ISAT scores are above the state average.
A documentary about these achievements is certainly appropriate. "The Providence Effect" is impressive, although not quite the film it could have been. It asks few hard questions. It's concerned primarily with charting the school's achievements through a series of testimonials from current and former teachers, community leaders and national figures (Ronald Reagan visited the school twice). These witnesses are impressive, but the film's lack of traditional documentary footage leads to a certain beneficent monotony. The doc observes, but doesn't probe.