[ F I L M ] BY JACQUELINE MROZ
Documenting a Newark Success Story
LONG-TIME NEWARK RESIDENTS Marylou
and Jerome Bongiorno knew of the challenges that the city’s disadvantaged children
face in trying to finish school. Then they
learned about St. Benedict’s Prep, a unique
all-boys private school in the city with an
astounding college acceptance rate near
100 percent. That’s unheard of in Newark,
which has a dismal 26 percent poverty rate,
and a graduation rate of only 22 percent.
The Bongiornos, both filmmakers and
former teachers, were compelled to make
a film about the remarkable school. “We
were blown away by what’s being done at
this very special place,” says Marylou.
Their film, The Rule, presents St. Bene-
dict’s as a model for other cities with simi-
lar challenges. Run by Benedictine monks
of Newark Abbey, the 145-year-old school
has an enrollment of 560 students, mainly
African-American and Latino. It is helmed
by Father Edwin Leahy, a legendary figure
in Newark academic circles.
The Rule documents St.
Benedict’s unusual strategies, including its student
leadership system and
extensive counseling program for students. The
school, which is in session
11 months out of the year,
also has an on-site residence, which allows students with problems at home to stay overnight to receive counseling and tutoring.
“Here are the solutions to problems
with schooling in the inner city,” says Jerome. “We no longer have an excuse for
low-performing schools.” The Bongiornos are working with Teachers College
at Columbia University in New York on a
film study guide for use by policy makers
Upcoming showings of The Rule in-
clude 7 PM on November 7 at Nutley Public
Library and 8 PM on November 12 at Seton
Hall University in South Orange. The doc-
umentary is the second in a planned film
trilogy by the Bongiornos. The first film,
released in 2007, is the critically acclaimed,
award-winning documentary Revolution
’ 67 showing on the Starz network, about
the 1967 Newark riots; the third, Rust, will
cover solutions to poverty in Newark and
other rust-belt cities. ■
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