Fifty minutes into The Providence Effect, a documentary profile of Providence-St. Mel School in Chicago, an extraordinary episode unfolds.
The school principal, Jeannette M. DiBella, strolls down the hall and peeks inside a math classroom. All is quiet. The teacher sits at his desk at the back of the room looking down at his notes. Each students sits at a desk at work on books and papers (they look like 8th or 9th Graders). Everything appears orderly and proper.
DiBella doesn’t move on, though.
“Are they taking a test?” she whispers.
The teacher answers that the students are doing independent study to ensure that they are “ready for the next week.” DiBella begins to wander the rows, asking the teacher with a grin, “Are you sure that’s what they’re doing?”
One student turns to look up at her as she approaches–a sure sign of uncertainty.