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I Am A Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School

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A remarkable, heartbreaking look at young students, their teachers, and their parents, I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School (HBO, Oct. 19, 9:45-11:15 p.m.) is a portrait of an inner-city school in North Philadelphia. Filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond (American Family Revisitied, Elvis ’56) roam the halls and classrooms as 725 African-American pupils attempt, with varying degrees of willingness and success, to defy poverty, violence, and drugs in order to receive the most basic education. Their fears, anger, and isolation (one young boy tells a teacher, ”We are black people, and we don’t know any white people”) come through harrowingly. Their dreams and joys consist of small things like a well-written book report and a free school breakfast at the start of the day. Stanton School—underfunded, understaffed, filled with children who have profound emotional and intellectual difficulties—stands here as a symbol of all American schools that barely survive the rot of ghetto life. Talking about the dope selling and shooting he witnesses walking to and from school, a little boy whispers, ”It make you cry sometime.”

The finest thing I Am a Promise does is to show viewers the concern of so many of these parents for their children-the film is a rebuke of the misconception, fostered by much of the media, that inner-city children lack love and attention. It’s a miracle that these kids and their families feel as much hope as they do. I Am a Promise has anything but a happy ending, and yet the Raymonds manage to capture this miracle on film anyway. A