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Review: "Beyond The Blackboard"

Ms. Stacey, if I don't say goodbye, I can imagine you're always with me. Love, Maria.
Goodbyes are always difficult but it ain't forever, it ain't the end. Still we got to move on with our lives and just believe and hope that time will come when you would meet again. It isn't always a bad thing, just think of it as a way to miss that someone. 

Above are the example of the quote from the movie beyond the blackboard. The Hallmark Hall of Fame offers another true story. It is Beyond the Blackboard and it is based on the experiences of Stacey Bess, a first time teacher in Utah. Her efforts on behalf of homeless students make for an inspirational and emotional TV movie, and this film shows the power of one person making a difference. 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 yelling 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 with Greg, and earned her GED, then graduated from college, all while raising not one but two children. This is the type of movie Hallmark does with expertise, and thanks to a strong performance by Emily Van Camp it is one of their best efforts of the year. The film follows the life of Stacey Bess (Van Camp) as she enters the teaching profession. She has a husband and two children but she is called to teach. When she meets the school administrator (Timothy Busfield) in her area, he is quite adamant that she commit to filling out the school term in the class where she is assigned. He also stresses that she must be able to teach grades one through six.

The next day when Stacey arrives at the place where she has been told to report she finds it is one room in an old building down by the railroad tracks 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. There is a class pet sort of which is a big black rat. The location is a place where the homeless live and her students are the children of these homeless adults. 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 because 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. Slowly but surely Stacey begins to make an impact on the kids and on the parents. She finally finds an ally in her school superintendent (Treat Williams) who sees her as fulfilling the true meaning of teaching. This program is everything audiences have come to expect a Hallmark Hall of Fame production to be. It is dramatic but uplifting, emotional but true. And there is an annotation at the end that explains what Stacey went on to accomplish. She presents her as determined but compassionate. She dearly loves her students but this also means she will fight for them. Nicki Aycox is impressive as the mother of two of the children Stacey teaches. Among the children the standouts are Paola Nicole Andino as Maria and Liam McKanna as Danny. They make the biggest impression but each of the children in the cast is adorable and quite the natural actor.

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. 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 and at the end Stacey had make him concentrate to the classes and become a good student.

I really admired the Hallmark of Fame for doing such a great story of a real life teacher who overcome her initial fears and prejudices and made a difference in the lives of the homeless children she taught in a shelter's make shift classroom. I have never watched a heart-warming movie focusing on the life of a teacher that’s why I am very amazed with the real Ms. Bess Stacey for accepting a job on a “school with no name” (as what the characters said) and for doing a great job working on the lives of her students or; should I say homeless children in spite of her limited classroom resources. Her bound, determination and strength helped her did her job so well that she did not only taught her children academics but also important values that influenced them to be a better person. It is good to see how Ms. Stacey’s teaching and care for her adorable children makes them thrive and yearn to learn. And when all these children adapt Ms. Stacey’s values, they all learn to love one another also because at the beginning, these homeless children always fight with each other. One thing I’ll never forget about this movie is when Stacey did all she can do make the room look like more of a classroom. She did not only paint the whole classroom but also tried her best to provide school supplies and snacks for her children. It is truly a beautiful story about serving others, no exception if you are rich or poor because these homeless children, who had nothing, but gave their love and little gifts to their teacher, in return for her teaching and love.

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