By Derek Grace
As graduation season commences, COLLEGE WEEK is an insider’s perspective, rarely represented in mainstream media, about a tenacious group of teachers at Spencer Elementary Technology Academy. The school, located in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, is committed to providing its students with access to technology, while setting high standards of excellence. Largely known for its high rates of homicide, crime, poverty and violence, Austin is one of the city’s largest communities. Despite its notoriety, Austin also has a caring community of home owners and working class families striving to make positive changes.
In COLLEGE WEEK, filmmaker Derek Grace documents the positive impact of teacher and parent involvement on student success. For elite charter and public schools schools in affluent Chicagoland communities, “College Week” is perceived as a customary practice, but in poor communities like Austin, schools more often serve as incubators for the school-to-prison pipeline. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) describes this phenomenon as a disturbing national trend wherein children with histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
The teachers’ unwavering love and dedication counters a full spectrum of issues students regularly face. In the film, we hear students and teachers provide eyewitness testimonials of the seemingly insurmountable challenges that this school and its community manage to work around on a daily basis: break-ins, gunfights, the loss of family and friends to gun violence, confrontations with drug dealers and gang leaders, and more.
Filmmaker Grace explains, “This film honors the values that my late father passed on to me. He firmly believed that education is the way out of poverty. In the lives of these children, the steadfast support and confidence from just one teacher may be the sustenance needed to carry them through in academia and in life. Thus, I hope that COLLEGE WEEK can serve as a possible model for other schools and communities that are undergoing similar challenges to explore because as a society we all benefit by instilling pride, hope and love of learning to the next generation.”