You often hear the expression “feel-good movie” and it usually refers to a heart-warming romantic comedy or maybe something with penguins. This is a real feel-good movie because it is a real story. A man with a passionate commitment to children, to education, and to his community took a school on the brink of being closed down and made it into a place where teachers and students set, meet, and exceed the highest of standards for achievement in all categories, including character.
The students at Providence St. Mel do not have fancy computers or calculators. They live in a community that struggles with gangs, drugs, and poverty. But they have families who work several jobs to pay a portion of the school’s tuition (every student in the school has a scholarship) and they have teachers who feel lucky to be there and make the students feel lucky, too.
An unabashed valentine to the school, Providence St. Mel, and its driving force, civil rights activist Paul J. Adams III, and at times it feels more like an infomercial than a movie. But it is a genuine privilege to spend time with these passionate, committed students and teachers. We follow the principal through the halls. We sit in circle time with seven-year-olds whose teacher has them not just participating but conducting the session. We see a graduating class that is sending 100 percent of the seniors to top colleges. And we see graduates returning to talk about how Providence St. Mel gave them what they needed to succeed in college, grad school, and the working world. We see their genuine excitement in learning, their pride in their sense of mastery, and the way that the confidence their teachers and parents have in them inspires them to learn. And that may just be the most important lesson that Providence St. Mel has to teach, turning all of us who watch this film into students who want to learn more.