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Baltimore Students ‘Step’ into National Spotlight

In 2008, in partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools, Brenda Brown Rever blazed the trail to transform secondary school education in the city.

She worked closely with district leadership to form the city’s first all-girls middle and high school and, over the course of more than one year, Rever planned and diligently rounded up a circle of friends and supporters to create a school that would focus on leadership, college preparation, strong academics and best practices for girls and young women.

By 2009, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, then housed in a temporary facility, opened its doors to its first and founding class of 120 6th-grade students.

Now, just six months after its first graduation was held with class members enjoying average SAT scores of more than 200 points above the Baltimore City average and all graduates having been accepted to major colleges or universities such as Johns Hopkins and New York University, Fox Searchlight Pictures has paid more than $4 million at the Sundance Film Festival for world rights to “Step,” a documentary about a step dance team at the school.

According to the website Deadline, the documentary “drew bidders like few focus [films] do.”

Fox Searchlight bought both distribution and remake rights for the Amanda Lipitz-directed film.

The film, which received financial backing from the Baltimore Ravens, follows three seniors and their “Lethal Ladies” step dance team as they navigate a nerve-wracking college application process and the trials and tribulations of the tenacious young women, as well as their mothers, an tenacious college counselor and a no-nonsense step coach.

Showcased in the film is the school’s mandate to send every student to college, despite the barriers that their home lives and community might present.

“We hope that the heroes of ‘Step’ will inspire girls everywhere to do what they have done, which is to prove that nothing is impossible when you surround yourself with a group of powerful women,” Lipitz said in a press release.

The film offers a rare and personal glimpse into the dreams and lives of a set of students and families who founded the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Woman to cultivate future leaders in the city and beyond.

The school’s “step” program is one of several vehicles students choose to find and channel their passion, power and purpose.

“‘Step’ is not just a film. It has become a labor of love for our entire community,” school officials and film producers said in a statement. “Every person who came into contact with our students and school community in the making of this documentary became a friend of the school — fully committed to our girls, to our mission and to portraying a journey of laughs, tears, stumbles, hard knocks and kinship, and all to a contagious beat that is authentically young and haunting and universal.”

This film shows firsthand and up-close what can happen when young women have the independence, discipline and safety net to lead, be challenged and create a legacy for others.

Every day at the school, the focus is on students and alumnae, and on nurturing a learning community of high expectations and support for every girl as she creates her own steps toward her future, officials said.

Of the Class of 2016, 98 percent graduated and received a high school diploma and each graduate earned acceptance to John Hopkins, NYU, the University of Maryland, Hampton University, Coppin State, Potomac State and Rosemont College, officials said.

Also, each student in this year’s class participated in precollege summer programs as rising seniors.

“These outcomes only partially convey the journey of an enduring commitment to our students, a steadfast fidelity to mission and our resilience as we grew from an idea and a school of one grade to a full college preparatory middle and high school with an annual commencement,” Shanaysha M. Sauls, the school’s CEO, said in a statement. “And along the way, we built a vibrant and special community that is like none other I have ever seen.”

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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