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A Race to Nowhere

This page is presented by the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Schools Committee (Camille Hamilton-Doyle chairman with Nancy Baum) and the Conference website hydepark.org. Reach the Conference at hpkcc@aol.com. For information about the film visit http://www.racetonowhere.com/.

Report. By Gary Ossewaarde, Schools Committee member and HPKCC reporter

Over 300 parents, residents, educators and others viewed "A Race to Nowhere" at Kenwood Academy March 10, 2011. The free screening was followed by a panel of 3 principals (Liz Kirby of Kenwood, Greg Mason of Murray, and Shenethe Parks of Bret Harte) and Shaz Rasul of U of C Neighborhood Schools Program, moderated by Gabriel Piemonte of the Hyde Park Herald and Hyde Park Schools Initiative.

This film has been shown around the city and suburbs, including at Ancona Schools in Kenwood. There may be another round of screenings. The audience indicated they would like to see it screened again in the community and would like follow up discussions

The screening at Kenwood Academy was co-sponsored by the six CPS neighborhood elementary and middle schools in Hyde Park and Kenwood Academy High School, the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Schools Committee, The University of Chicago Neighborhood Schools Program, and the Hyde Park Schools Initiative. The schools and U. of C. Neighborhood Schools paid for the screening and provided blocks of tickets to schools to ensure those schools' parents, educators, et al from the various schools would get in.

Here is a quick synopsis of the movie from the producers:

"A concerned mother turned filmmaker aims her camera at the high-stakes, high-pressure culture that has invaded our schools and our children’s lives, creating, the film documents, many unhealthy, disengaged, unprepared and stressed-out youth.

"Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people in all types of communities who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.

"Race to Nowhere is a call to mobilize families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens. In a grassroots sensation already feeding a groundswell for change, hundreds of theaters, schools and organizations nationwide are hosting community screenings during a six month campaign to screen the film nationwide . Tens of thousands of people are coming together, using the film as the centerpiece for raising awareness, radically changing the national dialogue on education and galvanizing change."

No film can encompass the complexities of education or of children, families and communities in America. But much of the ground and research was brought in and the film went deep into matters of culture, expectations, and economics in the country and the globalizing world. The film resonated with many parents and educators in the audience, who gave thoughtful testimony. The panelists also by and large agreed while insisting that all the children in every school must be inspired and given the opportunities to excel. They also expanded upon what the film and their experience as educators had to say about obstacles to change, especially in large systems like CPS, as well as strategies that work. There seemed to be general agreement on the need to strike a balance and to treat each child according to his character and needs-- one principal said the ideal is for each child to have an individualized road map and lesson plan.

The film ended with a set of 4 or 5 ideas or action topics each for parents, children, educators, administrators, and community members to explore. The HPKCC Schools Committee will be sitting down with the principals and the other conveners to develop appropriate and ongoing follow up in which parents and residents can participate.

For information about the film visit http://www.racetonowhere.com/. Read more about the Schools Committee and education issues in hydepark.org/education/schools. To find databases of activities and resources for youth and parents, visit hydepark.org/schools.


Herald report, March 16, 2011. By Daschell M. Phillips

The Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference hosted a screening of the education documentary "Race to Nowhere" Thursday. The screening was followed by a panel discussion.

The film "Race to Nowhere" followed the lives of several students in California as they tried to cope with the stress induced by intense academic rigor all with the hope of getting into an Ivy League university. In the film, stressed out students suffered from depression, chronic headaches and stomach troubles so bad that they had to receive emergency health care. Some also resorted to anorexia, self-mutilation and, in a least one case even suicide apparently due to the pressure.

Camille Hamilton-Doyle, chairwoman of the HPKCC schools committee, said HPKCC along with neighborhood schools in Hyde Park and Kenwood hosted the screening in hopes that it would bring parents out to a school event and also help them get an understanding of some of teh academic pressures their children may be facing. "Over 300 people showed up, but we noticed most of them were community members not parents from the schools that were involved, Hamilton-Doyle said. "We are glad to have community involvement, but I just wish more parents would have come."

The schools committee as well as the neighborhood schools in attendance have been -- and continue to be -- in pursuit of increasing parent participation in related school events.

After the screening a panel of administrators including Murray Elementary School Principal Greg Mason, Bret harte Elementary School Principal Shenethe Parks and Kenwood Academy High School Principal Elizabeth Kirby answered questions about the academic pressures of today's students.

Kirby said some of the components of the film did reflect what some of the students at Kenwood are going through but things such as advance level courses and extra curricular activities are what make students competitive college candidates. "With some of the students with heavy course loads, you do see the cracks and signs of depression," Kirby said. "It's difficult because students want the challenge because they know what they are up against." She said, "It's sad because sometimes it seems like we reduce students to GPA numbers and test scores, but the reality is that for college acceptance when you have 30 to 30,000 applicants for 8,000 seats it does come down to that."

Kirby said while the "Mission is College" is the actual mission statement for Kenwood, grades and test scores are not the only goal of the high school. "We are also trying to raise the level of intellectualism so that students are doing well because they love learning," Kirby said.

Parks said a statement that resonated with her from the documentary was that most students entering college are require to take remedial courses. "That definitely reflects back to elementary education and students not retaining information," Park said. She said she often tells parents not to focus on the letter grade but what the children are learning and that the film has inspired her to solicit dialogue with staff and parents around the issue of making sure students are retaining what they learn.

Mason said more dialogue and research should be done before deciding the best way to approach the issues highlighted in the film. "I would not be so quick to change things but I would be quick to have more dialogue," Mason said. "We have to be careful of just making changes without looking deeper into the case. The question is, is this specific in all American schools or just isolated and what are the real research findings around these very important issues?"

Cassandra Walker, a University of Chicago student who also volunteers at several elementary schools through the Neighborhoods School Network, said the film was "definitely true" about her peers. "about 3/4 of my friends are on psychiatric drugs to deal with their anxiety, stress and depression because we push ourselves so hard," Walker said. "Some of my friends have a saying: 'If you are sleeping more than four hours a night, you're not doing your work right.'" She said at the elementary schools she volunteers in, the kids get restless after three hours because they don't have recess, arts, PE or any way to express themselves in a creative way. "When I was in school I had 40 minutes of recess a day," Walker said. "I got to play, eat dirt or whatever and that helped me. I don't see how it helps to give kids psychiatric complexes at the age of 5."