Chicago’s Moses Montefiore Public School is the type of school no one wants their kids to go to… except as a last resort. The “therapeutic” school – the last of its type in the Chicago school system – was founded in 1929 on the city’s west side for “underprivileged and unadjusted boys ages 10-17” and became co-educational in the early 2000s. The students who end up there have been kicked out of their former schools, and display significant emotional and behavioural problems.
Not surprisingly given the make-up of its student body, there is constant conflict in the halls and classrooms of Montefiore. A fight is never far away. For the school’s teachers, their job consists as much of crowd control and behaviour management as it does actual teaching. Often more.
Many teachers aren’t up the challenge, and understandably so. It takes a certain type of person to handle these children – whose disrupted home lives are often at the root of their problems – and their abusive and violent behaviour.
Then there are teachers like Coach Frank Williams (above left), who does not stand for disobedience or other bad behaviour. His methods – telling kids to “shut up”, physically standing in their way when they try to leave a room – aren’t the types of things teachers are meant to do anymore, but this is no ordinary school.
For the students, it really is their last chance. The message is drummed in to them that their stay at Montefiore is meant to be temporary. The aim is for their problems to be addressed so they can return to a “regular” school. The word “jail” is mentioned a lot as another alternative. And that risk is real.
As we follow the stories of some of the students in Last Chance High, we see the daily struggle both they and their teachers face to keep them within that process of being integrated back into the normal education system, rather than down a path that might lead to prison.
Watch Last Chance High on Friday nights at 10:25pm on SBS VICELAND and afterwards at SBS On Demand: