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School on the Brink

For an entire year, Chicago Tribune education reporter Stephanie Banchero and photographer Heather Stone followed an 8th grade class at Sherman School of Excellence, a struggling school on the city’s South Side. The “failed” school was closed in June of 2006 and reopened three months later with an entirely new staff, according to NCLB regulations. Montie Apostolos, an uncompromising veteran with a record of raising reading scores and changing attitudes, was brought in to teach the 8th graders. Among her injunctions to the class: “Don’t blame Ms. Apostolos for your failures. I’m sorry your lives are hard, but that’s not an excuse to be lazy. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth either.” Not all teachers were as strong. Not all teachers would last the year.

The multimedia series offers a class photo that reveals a roomful of aspirations—students who plan to attend college, become professional athletes, chefs, and real estate moguls. On video, students speak openly of their efforts to get a decent education, against all odds. Asks one student, “Do I really want to let myself down, my momma down? My whole family comes from Section 8 [a housing-subsidy program], maybe they’re proud of it, but I’m not. It’s very difficult to become the first ...You have to carry the weight.”

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