“Last Chance High,” a new documentary series from Vice, chronicles the lives of students at CPS’s only therapeutic day school, Moses Montefiore Academy. The school’s purpose is to educate troubled teens who can not succeed in a traditional learning environment due to their behavioral problems. The documentary portrays the students without voiceovers or intervention from the journalist to tell the life of each individual from a raw and unbiased perspective.
Within the first few scenes of the documentary, it is clear that the students at Montefiore are deeply troubled. Fights break out in the hall before students have even set foot in the classroom. As the documentary evolves, we learn the background of some of the students, and it becomes evident that most are acting out as a way to cope with the anger and fear they feel from experiences outside of school.
One student in particular, “Spanky,” suffers from a serious speech impediment which began after his father’s release from prison for murder. Spanky tells Vice that he fears being around his father because he sees him beating his mother and sisters, and although he wants to fight back and defend them, he is afraid that his father will kill him if he does. Despite this, Spanky meets Coach Williams, the gym teacher, who soon becomes a sort of mentor and father figure to him. The relationship between them is extremely beneficial to Spanky as he learns not to take to heart the teasing he endures from other students and begins to open up about his disturbing personal life.
Sadly, Spanky’s story is not unique. Montefiore was established in the hopes of healing these students to help them transition back to a traditional school. For many, it seems that Montefiore has evolved from being just a school; it has become an escape from bigger life issues.
Unfortunately,Montefiore is being considered for closure. According to schoolcuts.org, this year only 27 students were enrolled in the school, even though CPS believes that a total of 208 students should be enrolled . Montefiore suffers from underutilization, poor academic performance, little progress, and low academic stability (http://www.schoolcuts.org/schools/81).
In a 2008 press conference, a group of clergy warned about the ongoing threat of closure to Montefiore. Rev. Robin Hood, a member of Montefiore’s local school council who has personally mentored many of the students at the school, believes that “special education students who don’t get the services they need are at high risk of getting involved in street violence” (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-06-02/news/ct-met-special-ed-chief-0602-20100602_1_regular-education-students-special-ed-program-special-education). In order to give Montefiore a chance to succeed, he says that “CPS needs to rethink their position and bring more resources and teachers instead of gutting this school” (http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=226).
CPS funds 58 private therapeutic schools in Chicago and directs many students in need of special services to private sector schools instead of trying to direct more revenue and funds to an existing therapeutic school. Students with special needs are in need of stability in their lives. Forcing them to uproot if their school were closed would simply cause more damage. Relationships like that between Spanky and Coach Williams would be severed. The trust that these administrators have worked so hard to establish to simply understand these students and to try to connect with them would be lost.