A 24-year-old first-time teacher overcomes her initial fears and prejudices and makes a difference in the lives of the homeless children she teaches in a shelter's makeshift classroom. Written by
In this fact-based Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, Stacey is 24 years old in 1987 and fresh out of college. She has wanted to be a teacher since she was a little girl. In flashbacks, we see her as a little girl who has to listen to her father yell at her mother, but other than that we don't know the specifics of why her early life was not pleasant. Then at 16 she becomes pregnant and drops out of school. Still, she married the father, Greg, and earned her GED, then graduated from college, all while raising not one but two children.
Stacey is interviewed by the head of human resources for the Salt Lake City schools (Timothy Busfield), who has one opening for her--a school for the homeless. It turns out to be much worse than she imagined: a dump of a warehouse which is also the homeless shelter, with no textbooks or real desks for the students who cover a wide range of ages and abilities, or anything to make it look like a real school. Every time a train passes it's like an earthquake. The substitute teacher she is replacing can't wait to get out of the place. There is a class pet--sort of.
But the kids are no worse than kids in any other inner-city school, and most of the homeless are really nice to Stacey. One exception is Candy, who doesn't understand her kids should be in school so they can improve their status in life. After the first day, though, Stacey has only one incentive to stay at this dump. She doesn't want her own children to see her quit. So she perseveres, finally getting through to the school children and really teaching them instead of just babysitting. But the real challenge is dealing with the bureaucracy--she has no actual principal, and no one wants to take responsibility for anything.
Eventually, Stacey gets Dr. Warren to listen, and things improve. Some of the homeless people assist Stacey in her efforts, and one is so good at his job he can be paid for it. Still, other challenges are ahead in this environment.
There is an additional complication in Stacey's life that has nothing to do with her job, but it's just a challenge that adds to the others. She won't give up.
This was a really good movie, though one possible criticism is the fact that these kids were too ideal. And Stacey's own children are too perfect to be believed. But the movie is based on fact, and maybe this is the way it was.
Another omission: at the end the real Stacey Bess was introduced, and she mentioned prayer. Not once was a specific religious faith brought up in this movie. Was this an effort to be "politically correct" and not single out one faith over others?
Emily VanCamp does a very good job. She looks so much like Melissa Gilbert that she seemed familiar, even though I don't really know her. The real Stacey Bess looked very much like Kiersten Warren, an actress playing one of the homeless parents. Still, Warren is much older than Stacey is supposed to be here, and she was well suited for a tough, more street-smart character.
All the leading actors were very good. I would single out Paola Nicole Andino as Maria, a sixth-grader intending to be a teacher but dealing with challenges. Also Liam McKanna as Danny, who goes from Stacey's worst discipline problem (but hardly anything to write home about) to one of the class leaders and a child with lots of potential.
It was worthy of the name Hallmark Hall of Fame.
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