Beyond the Blackboard (2011)
Movie Review by Debbie Winkler
Starring: Emily VanCamp, Steve Talley, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Treat Williams, Nicki Aycox
Director: Jeff Bleckner
Series: a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation
Release Date: 24 April 2011
Length: 95 minutes
Movie Rating: PG
View Format: TV
My Rating: 4/5 stars
Stacey Bess (Emily VanCamp) is thrilled to get her first teaching job. She just graduated from college and has no experience, but has wanted to be a teacher her whole life. But when Stacey arrives at the School with No Name, she is horrified to discover the conditions she is expected to teach in. There are no desks, no books, the lights are dim and every train that passes by shakes the whole classroom! Parents are constantly interrupting, the kids all have a different amounts of learning, rats come up out of the floorboards and there is no money to buy the supplies the children desperately need. Can Stacey find the heart and the means to give these children a chance in life?
I grew up watching the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations with my mother. I can remember that they were a special event in our household and my family would gather around the TV set on Sunday evenings to watch them together. The only thing that has changed for me is that I never know when these movies are going to be on – or what channel they will broadcast on – and that I can use my DVR to record them and watch them any night of the week. Other than that, they are still the same, high-quality movies that I remember from my childhood. They are always heartwarming, clean, and have inspirational stories. Beyond the Blackboard is no different.
I am a sucker for movies that are based on true stories. I guess I enjoy them the most because I can see a single individual who makes a difference in other people’s lives or in their own lives. They give me hope and they inspire me to try harder to be a better person. Beyond the Blackboard is based on the true life story of Stacey Bess, whom viewers are introduced to at the end of this film. Stacey taught at this homeless school, and others, for 8 years before she left her teaching job to become an advocate for education for underprivileged children. She did this while raising her own children and being a supportive wife. Stacey got her first job at the School with No Name when she was 24-years-old. Eight years later she was 32-years-old and was making a powerful impact in school districts around the country. I am older than Stacey was when she accomplished all of this and do not have any legacy to live behind me. That does not mean that I have not touched any lives, but no one will ever be making a movie (made for TV or not!) about my life when it is done. What I am trying to say is that all of us have the potential to change the world around us for the better. We may be scared, unequipped or ill prepared, but that does not mean we should back away from the challenge.
Emily VanCamp shines as Stacey Bess. I loved that the filmmaker gave her a few moments at the end of the movie to introduce the real Stacey Bess and to talk about how she took this role because she found the story so personally touching. I feel that Emily VanCamp really captured Stacey’s message and her life. At first, I felt that Stacey was not strong enough to become a teacher who mattered. She came from a home where her parents argued constantly and took refuge in books at a young age. Stacey left school to marry at the young age of 16, but she never gave up her dream of becoming a teacher. She got her GED and then her college degree, only to end up in a classroom to teach grades 1 – 6 with children who were bright and others who had little to no education. Their parents were homeless, some with skills, other who can’t even read. Emily VanCamp was like a shining star in this setting. She was clean, pretty and has a kind of naive innocence about her that she never lost, even though she saw some of the worst of what people were capable of. As the movie progresses, I saw Stacey as a character become stronger, more powerful and a driving force in countless lives. You will find yourself caught up in the lives of her young students. These young actors were memorable, individual and well cast. Liam McKanna as Danny and Paola Nicole Andino as Maria stand out the most as they are given bigger roles in this movie, but there are some little children who are just heartbreakers. They had such cute little faces with countless opportunities ahead of them if they could only be given the chance!
It was heartbreaking to realize that most of these students had no real chance at a future because of the situation their parents were in. All of the children in the classroom were shown as bright, loveable and aching for a chance. They responded to Stacey because she gave them hope, trust and showed them that she was determined to become part of their lives. Stacey takes one of her weekends to redo the classroom, at no pay and with supplies she purchased herself, and then invites the students to set rules with her. The children open up to Stacey about their personal lives as they share stories of abuse (verbal and physical), low self-esteems and a sense of powerlessness. A great teacher can change the way that children see themselves and the world around them. It is too bad that great teachers are not rewarded in this life the way that they should be. I loved the little extra touches Stacey made to reach out and give her students a chance. She gets up extra early so she can go down the street, ringing a bell and trying to get her students to wake up and make it to school on time. Stacey holds meetings with the parents and treats with them respect and encourages them to donate time to the school. I appreciate that the movie took the time to show that the homeless adults were not all druggie deadbeats, but that some of them had great skills and talents. They just had no job and no where to go. If you look closely at your life, you will realize that you are not very far away from being out on the street yourself. Without a safety net of close family and friends to help you out when times are hard, you could easily end up living in a car, too. If you have children, it is even more difficult because it is more expensive. Thank goodness for teachers who make a difference like Stacey Bess who give these children a chance while they are at the shelter!
I found this movie to be inspirational and uplifting. There are so few films out there that will really leave you with a warm, good feeling inside that it is nice to run across them every now and again. This is a wonderful movie to share with your whole family and hopefully it will launch a discussion about what it is like to be homeless and if there is anything we can do to help. Shortly before I watched this film, I had a grungy-looking man approach me in a parking lot and I automatically said that I didn’t have any cash, even though I actually had a few ones in a wallet. He looked and me and said “I was going to offer to wash your windows” and walked away. I not only denied him a few dollars that would mean much more to him than they would to me, but I robbed him of a little bit more of his dignity. I do not know if he was on the streets because of choices he had made in his life or of circumstances beyond his control, but I feel like I made the wrong choice. I had the power to change one person’s life for a little while and I did not take advantage of it. This movie inspired me to try harder and to see if I could make a difference in someone else’s life. Hopefully it will do the same for you.
This movie has scenes that discuss drug abuse and alcoholism. There are scenes of poverty, shouting, verbal arguments, living on the streets and bullying. Recommended for ages 7 and up.