Winning the lottery in New York City can come in two forms: Those jackpots that are always being promised in store windows... or the chance to leave your failing public school and enter a free, public charter school like the Harlem Success Academy.
This Sunday, September 19, 2010, the JCC of Manhattan screened "The Lottery," a documentary wherein filmmaker Madeline Sackler follow four Harlem families, each one with a bright, eager, talented child, as they wait to find out whether they've won a seat for their incoming kindergartner to the Harlem Success Academy... or whether they'll be forced to attend their zone, deemed by the DOE to be failing, school.
To counteract the perception that there is only one type of family living uptown, Sackler chooses:
* One boy where both parents are union members... yet can't believe that it is the NYC Teachers' Union that's attempting to block a charter school from opening in their neighborhood.
* One boy with a mother who graduated from Columbia Business School and works on Wall Street.... while his father serves time in jail.
* The son of a father from the Ivory Coast, who is raising his child alone while the mother waits for a Visa to come to America.
* The daughter of a hearing-impaired single mother.
"The Lottery" is a movie that's unapologetic in its pro-charter school stance, pointing out the dismal statistics for graduation and reading level among students in Harlem, vilifying the teacher's union and the ACORN groups they hire to come in and fight a charter school's establishment, and interviewing four charter school supporters (including Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark) to every one (Public Advocate Betsy Gottbaum) anti-charter school interview.
"The Lottery" is partisan and dogmatic, but it is also extremely moving, especially in its climax, with footage shot at The Armory on the day The Harlem Success Academies held their public lotteries for admission. It is difficult to remain dry-eyed or uninvolved as we watch thousands of families literally praying for salvation from their current educational options and sobbing with joy or grief. Somehow, it doesn't seem right that parents should have to be on their knees, all but begging, for their children to receive a decent education, even as the people ostensibly responsible for it, the Department of Education and the politicians, try to keep the charter schools from stepping in.
More information on "The Lottery," as well as NYC screening times are available at: http://thelotteryfilm.com/
As the Kindergarten Admissions season gets underway and concerned New Yorkers ponder public, private, gifted and talented, and other options for their children, "The Lottery" helps put charter schools on the radar, as well.