From budget slashes to run-down classrooms, it’s a sad fact our education system is deficient in more than a couple ways. But what happens when the problem is recognized? Once we’re capable of pinpointing the fact that yes, many schools in low-income neighborhoods lack adequate facilities, supplies and materials, what do we do next? Executive Producers Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and Denise Cramsey (producer of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”) are leading the way with their new proactive series “School Pride.”
Fridays at 10 p.m.
The show follows the diverse personalities of SWAT commander Tom Stroup, Susie Castillo (“House of Payne”), Kym Whitley (“Til Death”) and Jacob Soboroff (“AMC News”) as they bring together communities to renovate and make over some of the country’s most needy schools. The first episode, titled “Soaring Eagles” after the school’s mascot, tells the story of Enterprise Middle School in Compton, California — a school likened to a prison by the students. Unsanitary bathrooms, walls covered with graffiti and dangerously outdated athletic facilities are just a sampling of what plagues Enterprise.
Stroup and his team swoop in to save the day in response to a video sent in by two Enterprise students depicting the state of their school. There are cheers and celebration as they unveil a giant timer with a countdown set for 10 days. Within this timeframe, the community completely rebuilds the school. Faculty and volunteers set to work, and rebuild it they do. Montage upon montage shows us joyous kids and adults working to restore the school they love. Companies willingly donate their time and effort to help with the project. What results is a state-of-the-art middle school complete with a brand new gym and athletic complex, science classrooms and even a People magazine reading room.
While the show focuses primarily on the communal struggle to make the school into something to be proud of, there are also attempts to find out “who’s to blame” for the state of our nation’s schools. But the attempts are unsubstantial. Soboroff briefly interviews Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but this merely provides political rhetoric that fails to address the complex issues our schools face.
Additionally, while it’s heartwarming to see the students’ and teachers’ eyes fill with tears of joy at the sight of their new school, one can’t help but wonder if this is what’s really necessary to improve our nation’s education system. Yes, it’s remarkable that within 10 days NBC converted the ugly duckling into the belle of the ball, so to speak, but is it just facilities that make a school tick? What about teachers and parental involvement in their children’s education? These are also important factors that NBC seems to have neglected in its agenda to compress miraculous educational rebirth into an hour of television.
But the show in and of itself is a positive thing. Schools get the money and the recognition they need, and viewers get a glimpse of an issue that desperately needs attention. And despite the overly sentimental aspects of the show (e.g., a few too many scenes of teachers thanking NBC profusely), the intimate interactions between adult and student are moving and unaffected. It’s touching to see members of a community work tirelessly toward a common goal.
The episode closes with statistics showing Enterprise’s improved test scores months after the renovation. Witnessing a school’s marked progress and uplifting storylines of proactive teachers and engaged students is definitely worth setting aside some time for.