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September 04, 2002 1 min read

Struggles for Hope

Just in time for the start of school: two award- winning documentaries that profile educators struggling to help students surmount daunting obstacles.

Struggles for Hope: Just in time for the start of school: two award-winning documentaries that profile educators struggling to help students surmount daunting obstacles.

“Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton” focuses in part on Reggie Barnes, the superintendent of the embattled West Tallahatchie school district in the Mississippi Delta. The 1,290-student district, already on probation because of dismal student test scores, will be taken over by the state of Mississippi if those scores don’t rise.

“We get kids in kindergarten who don’t know their names ... who don’t know their colors ... who’ve never been read to,” Mr. Barnes says. “If we can educate the children of the illiterate parent, we stop the vicious cycle.”

The documentary, which has its television debut Sept. 18 on HBO, also tracks the progress of Cassandra, an inquisitive 6th grader. She transfers from a school district where many children are illiterate to a different district where she thrives.

But when her mother calls her back home to help out with her siblings, Cassandra’s wish to go to college is jeopardized.

“Lalee’s Kin” was nominated for a 2001 Academy Award and received the best-cinematography award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

The second documentary, “Accidental Hero: Room 408,” profiles teacher Tommie Lindsey and his forensics students at James Logan High School in San Francisco’s East Bay area. It’s a school that’s no stranger to drugs and gang violence, and where only about one-third of the students go on to college.

In the academic sport of forensics, the students hone their speech, debate, and oral-interpretation skills. The students’ performances, guided by literary material that mirrors their myriad cultures and experiences, speak powerfully about race, poverty, and culture.

Because of their hard work, the students win regional and state competitions, and almost all of them go to college.

“Accidental Hero,” which airs Sept. 19 on PBS, won the best- documentary award at the 2001 Ashland Film Festival.

—Rhea R. Borja rborja@epe.org

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