Film captures story of faith-filled teacher's service to homeless

Emily VanCamp Beyond the Blackboard movie Photo Credit Hallmark Hall of Fame CNA US Catholic News 4 20 11 Emily VanCamp in "Beyond the Blackboard"

A new Hallmark TV movie premiering on April 24 chronicles the true story of renowned Utah educator Stacey Bess and her work in teaching homeless children who had been nearly abandoned by the local educational system.

“I hope that all people, including teachers, will realize that it does not take any special skill or training to make an impact on the life of a child,” she told CNA on April 19. “All we really need to do is care.”

Based on Bess's 1994 book, “Nobody Don't Love Nobody,” Hallmark Hall of Fame’s “Beyond the Blackboard” TV movie will air on CBS this Sunday, April 24 at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

The film depicts a 24 year-old Bess in 1987 – at the time, a pregnant mother of two – who seeks a teaching job in the Salt Lake City school district shortly after earning her teacher’s certification.

The school year already underway, Bess is offered a job teaching first through sixth grades at a homeless facility. Her makeshift “school” has no desks, no books, no supplies, and no name.

What follows is Bess's remarkable effort to transform what was considered a mere holding tank for eventual delinquents into a thriving, educational community for the children and their families.

“Having a movie based on your book is hard enough, then add that it is a portrayal of your real life,” Bess said. “I trusted Hallmark completely because I knew that they believed in what I believe in.  Together we desire to inspire the audience to step out of their comfort zone and make a difference in the life of a child.”

Bess noted the differences in the film as compared to her book and life story. Even though she taught at “The School with No Name” for 11 years, the events in the movie were compressed “into my first year of teaching, so I had to adjust to the timing in the movie being different than the timing in the book,” she said.

In the long run, Bess said she learned that “all of that did not matter as long as the truth of the story was told.”
Bess's character is portrayed in the film by 24 year-old actress Emily VanCamp, known for her roles in “Everwood” and the hit series “Brothers & Sisters.”

“I think the main reason that I was really drawn to this role was the idea that I could help to shed more light on Stacey's incredible story,” VanCamp told CNA in an April 20 interview.

“She is such a huge inspiration and reminds us that one person truly can make a difference. No child should ever be left behind regardless of their circumstances,” she said. “As an actress it is always wonderful to be able to combine story telling with a great cause, so taking this role was a no brainer for me.”

VanCamp said that the “experience of filming this project was amazing. The kids were so lovely and talented and we had such a great crew of people who were equally as touched by the story as I was.”

“We all wanted to do the story justice and make Stacey proud. I hope that we did.”

VanCamp added that she “loved meeting Stacey. I love her energy and she has such a great sense of humor. It was an honor to meet her and to be able to play her.”

Bess echoed the enthusiasm, saying that “Emily Van Camp was the perfect match for me. She understood me completely.”

Bess, a Latter Day Saints member and mother of six, said that her education by nuns in England when she was a child helped instill a love for learning, and reinforced the importance of faith in her life.

“When I was 4 years old I lived in Leeds, England,” she recalled. “The American children, whose parents worked for the government, were driven to a private Catholic school. I was fortunate to be there for a few years until we came back to the states.

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“My favorite memories were of the nuns leading us into one of my favorite songs, 'Go tell it on the Mountain,'” she said. “Later In life I remember younger siblings who did not go to the private Catholic school heard me singing this beloved song and asked, 'Where in the world did you learn that song?' I told them that I have fond memories of the nuns leading us into each day with The Lords Prayer and 'Go tell it on the Mountain.” 

“I can't imagine a better way to start a day than to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is our savior,” Bess said.
On her tireless work in service to homeless children, Bess said “I have always felt like there was a plan for me. My experiences both difficult and amazing prepared me to rub shoulders with these people.”

“I knew what fear was. I knew what humiliation felt like, and I also knew that I was a child of God,” she said. 

“It was that knowledge that helped me plow through the difficult and use the lessons learned to bless the lives of others. I guess you could say that all of my story both the good and bad are blessings that I was able to draw on when faced with whether I should step out of my comfort zone and serve or stand back,” Bess added.

“I chose to step up in behalf of a child.”

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