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Philadelphia School Subject of Oscar-Winning Documentary

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For the second year in a row, a documentary about education has won an Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

"I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School,'' a 90-minute film produced last year for the Home Box Office cable channel, won the Academy Award for best feature-length documentary at last week's ceremony in Los Angeles.

The film documents one year at M. Hall Stanton Elementary School in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Philadelphia. Television critics last fall hailed the film as a sobering examination of how social ills spill over into the classrooms of an urban elementary school.

The critic Tom Shales of The Washington Post wrote that the film "is as emotionally involving as it is socially conscientious.''

The veteran documentary-makers Alan and Susan Raymond--perhaps best known for "An American Family,'' the 1973 public-television documentary series about the Loud family--made the film.

Poverty and Frustration

"We wanted to put a face on the statistic of the number of children that grow up in poverty,'' Mr. Raymond said in an interview last week. "The so-called education-documentary model we're used to seeing tends to be a rather dry survey of two or three schools. They don't have much emotional impact. The strength of this documentary is that it makes people care about these children.''

"I Am a Promise'' spotlights several educators and students at Stanton Elementary.

The school's principal, Deanna Burney, is shown at the start of the year enthusiastically telling the children that they are all "talented, intelligent, and gifted'' young people. By the end of the year, however, she announces her resignation after three years as principal, citing frustration over a lack of support and funding compared with wealthier suburban schools.

Mr. Raymond said one of the film's central messages is that "no one individual, no matter how well intentioned they are, is the answer to this problem'' of children in poverty.

HBO will rerun the documentary on April 25 at 11:30 A.M. Eastern time. It is also available from Video VÀeritÀe, 927 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10021; (212) 249-7356. Prices vary for individual, library, and school sales.

Last year, "Educating Peter,'' a 30-minute film about full inclusion of children with disabilities, won the Oscar for best short-subject documentary. (See Education Week, April 7, 1993.)

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