Tuesday, August 9, 2016
All the Difference 
PBS POV program listing
Chicago Reader (L. Picket) interview w. director
All the Difference  (directed by Tod Lending) is a documentary that followed two students who were among the first graduating class of the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men operating in the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago through their years in college. The film played recently at the 2016 (22nd) Black Harvest Film Festival held at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago and will play nationally on PBS' POV program in Sept 2016.
The documentary sought to explore what could be done to increase the chances of African American males of attaining college degrees. Currently only 1/2 of African American males attain a high school diploma, only 1/2 of those who do choose to go onto college and only 16% of African American males actually finish a bachelor's degree in 4-6 years following high school graduation.
The strategy that Urban Prep seems to be taking is above all _raising expectations_ making going onto college the presumed goal of every single student attending their Academy. Then the Academy provides a good deal of mentoring support and perhaps above all teaches their students to not be afraid _to ask for / seek out help_ when they they needed it.
Both of the students followed -- Robert Henderson who went on to Lake Forest College a predominantly white. classically "small liberal arts college" in northern Illinois, and Krishaun Branch who chose to go to Fisk University a historically black university in Nashville, TN -- faced enormous challenges when they arrived at their respective college campuses for their freshmen years. Robert had been raised by his grandmother after his mother had died in a car accident when he was 12. Krishaun had flirted with gang activity before his mother put him in the Urban Prep Academy. Both were from the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago, one of the toughest, most crime ridden neighborhoods in the city. Yet Robert had come to Lake Forest College with good grades and great hopes that he could make it through its pre-Med program. Krishaun with lesser grades had hoped to get a degree from Fisk and become a Federal Marshall. Both came to their respective colleges depending _entirely_ on grants, work-study programs and student loans. Their grants depended on maintaining reasonably high (or even very high) grade point averages. They also came with the burdens of their entire families, community and even their former Prep School _counting on them_ to finish / succeed.
This last motivating force -- that all kinds of people, from their families, community to their former Prep School depending on them to succeed -- really could not be underestimated in helping them do so. One of the two students followed in the documentary, Krishaun, attended the screening and _flatly admitted_ (to the knowing acknowledgement of the Audience) that he _really_ DIDN'T WANT to be "a failure" in this documentary or to his former school. And honestly RAISING THE BAR like this -- making failure (by-and-large) _an unacceptable option_ -- MAY have made ALL THE DIFFERENCE to these young men.
Now the two were _not_ thrown simply "thrown to the wolves." They were prepared quite well in their Prep School. They graduated with legitimately good grades, were taught skills, study habits, and above all _the importance to ask_ when they needed help -- be it with school work OR with working out finances. But the Academy's "raising the bar" and making "easy failure" _unacceptable_ (despite the self-evident challenges) SEEMED TO WORK.
In any case, this is definitely a worthwhile documentary for _all people_ interested in helping young people (especially young people at risk) to succeed and ought to promote good discussions among parents, educators, community leaders and even / above all among _young people themselves_ about the tools and skills that our young people need to learn / come-to-have-access-to in order to do so.
An excellent thought / discussion producing piece!
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