Teacher fights good fight in 'Beyond the Blackboard'
Emily Van Camp, right, portrays teacher Stacey Bess in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production "Beyond the Blackboard," airing at 9 p.m. Sunday on CBS.
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In "Beyond the Blackboard," Emily VanCamp plays a newly hired teacher who shows up on the first day of class in the 1980s to discover that her school is at a homeless shelter. It's a filthy "school with no name." She has no desks, no books. Her students are suspicious, sullen and abusive, and so are their parents. When a passing train jars the building -- on the wrong side of the tracks, of course -- the classroom rattles as though it's about to cave in, and then a well-fed rat comes out of a hole in the floor and freaks the screaming kids out.
And you thought your job was tough.
Most of us would have quit after one day. In fact, I was getting stressed out just watching.
But this teacher, Stacey Bess, not only went back to the Salt Lake City homeless shelter, afraid to admit failure; she fought for her students, transformed their attitudes and helped them get the educations they deserved.
In her first week of class, a couple of crackheads steal the television Stacey was using, out of desperation, to play videotapes to "babysit" the kids -- and Stacey even inadvertently holds the door open for them. She and her family end up with head lice. And her immediate supervisor (Timothy Busfield), who shuns her phone calls, essentially tells her: Like it or leave it. The children at the shelter won't be there long, and neither will she, he says.
Still, Stacey Bess presses on, and slowly she gains the support of the students, their parents, and the school district itself. Her perseverance and sacrifice attract the attention of an administrator played by Treat Williams, and it's a turning point in the life of the school. (Mr. Williams and Ms. VanCamp worked together on the TV show "Everwood" for four years, before the actress starred in the TV show "Brothers & Sisters.")
"Beyond the Blackboard" is based on a true story that Stacey Bess turned into the book "Nobody Don't Love Nobody," and the movie holds the interest, despite a tendency to sentimentalize.
As we learn at the end of the show, the real-life Stacey Bess earned the National Jefferson Award for "greatest public service by an individual 35 years or under" in 1995. We also learn that since 1987, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act has helped to ensure the rights of homeless children to an education.
This is the 60th anniversary year of the Hallmark Hall of Fame series and the 210th original production. Some interesting trivia: 63 Oscar-winning actors (one-fourth of all Oscar winners) have been in a Hallmark Hall of Fame show, and the series has won 79 Emmys, more than twice as many as any other series.
Entertaining and provocative, "Beyond the Blackboard" carries on a formidable tradition.
First Published April 21, 2011 12:00 am