The Children of Waiting For "Superman"
In the film Waiting For "Superman," we meet Anthony, a student who lives in Washington, D.C., and is in the fifth grade at one of the worst-performing school districts in the country.
Although he's a good student now and studies hard, Anthony wasn't always at the top of the class. He never knew his mother, and after losing his father to drugs in 2004, he started to act out in class. He stopped caring about his grades and had to repeat second grade.
Eventually, Anthony moved in with his grandparents, and with the help of a good teacher, he began to study, pay attention in class and turn his grades around. But, will that all change next year?
After completing fifth grade, Anthony will move up to John Philip Sousa, a struggling middle school called "an academic sinkhole" by the Washington Post. Anthony's grandmother says she knows how difficult it will be for him to succeed at the school and worries about his safety. His neighborhood is plagued by crime, drugs and violence. Anthony needs a way out—and SEED Charter School could offer him that opportunity.
SEED is one of the only public boarding schools in the country, and it produces remarkable results. If accepted, Anthony would move out of his troubled neighborhood and into a challenging academic environment where nine out of 10 students go on to college. Anthony is one of 61 applicants, and with only 24 open spots, he has less than a 50 percent chance of getting into SEED.
Daisy lives in East Los Angeles, where six out of 10 students in her neighborhood don't graduate from high school. She is about to enter one of the worst-performing middle schools in Los Angeles, but Daisy has big dreams. "I want to go to a medical college or a veterinarian college to study about people and animals because I really want to become a surgeon," she says. During filming, Daisy is only in the fifth grade, but she already knows where she wants to go to college. She even wrote a letter to that college's admission office.
No one in Daisy's family has completed high school—her mother and father both dropped out to support their parents. Now, they do everything they can to support their daughter, but private school isn't an option.
Right down the street from Daisy's home is one of the best charter schools in Los Angeles: KIPP LA PREP. The school's students rank among the best in Los Angeles, and its demanding program will prepare Daisy for college in ways that her neighboring public school cannot. But with 135 students applying for just 10 spots, Daisy has a 14 percent chance of getting in.
During the making of Waiting For "Superman," Emily is an eighth-grader in California who hopes to become a teacher one day. She lives in an affluent neighborhood with schools that boast high graduation rates. Her local high school has golf and water polo teams, a state-of-the-art drama theater and amazing test scores. Emily doesn't have to worry about her safety or a lack of resources, but she does have to worry about her academic future.
See Emily on The Oprah Show.
Emily doesn't want to go to her neighborhood school because the school tracks its students. So if Emily isn't considered to be as smart as another student, she says she will be placed on a lower academic track with fewer learning opportunities.
Instead of attending her local high school, Emily dreams of attending Summit Preparatory Charter High School, where there is no student tracking. Every student is held to the same set of high expectations, so Emily will learn more and improve her chances of getting into the college of her choice. She is one of 455 applicants applying for 110 places, so she has a 24 percent chance of being accepted.
In the film, we also meet Francisco, a first-grader in Bronx, New York. He goes to a public school where it's easy to slip through the cracks. Francisco's mother, Maria, knows the challenges her son may face because she graduated from a Bronx public school herself.
Maria is a social worker and the first in her family to go to college. She's doing everything she can to give her son opportunities the local schools can't provide. She has enrolled him in two after-school reading programs at a local city college, she studies with him every night, and she's reaching out to his teacher for more help...but she's running out of options.
Maria has sent Francisco's application to seven charter schools that all offer excellent academic programs but has been denied admission every time. Maria is now forced to look for schools outside of the Bronx.
Now, she's waiting to hear about Harlem Success Academy, a rigorous charter school that offers the individualized help Francisco needs. Harlem Success Academy is a 45-minute commute from their apartment, but it's Francisco's last chance to get into a good school. If Francisco doesn't get in, he will stay at his school and risk falling behind. As one of 792 applicants vying for 40 spots, Francisco has a 5 percent chance of getting in.
The fifth student featured in Waiting For "Superman" is Bianca, a kindergartener from Harlem, New York. Her mother, Nakia, is a single mom who pays $500 a month for Bianca to attend a private school because she worries about sending her daughter to the nearby public school.
Nakia is a receptionist, but she's having trouble finding steady work. After her hours are cut back, she can no longer afford Bianca's tuition. When she falls behind in payments, Bianca is not allowed to attend her kindergarten graduation.
See Bianca and Nakia on The Oprah Show.
"I don't care what I have to do," Nakia says. "I don't care how many jobs I have to obtain, but she will go to college." Nakia made her daughter a promise: Bianca won't get everything she wants, but she will get everything she needs. That's why Nakia has submitted Bianca's application for a spot at Harlem Success Academy, a free charter school with dedicated teachers and excellent test results. Bianca is one of 767 children vying for 35 spots. She has a 5 percent chance of getting in.