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Ballou High School Movie Unit – Lesson Plan I


Music, Social Studies  


9, 10, 11, 12  

Title – Ballou High School Movie Unit – Lesson Plan I
Film Produced by – Casey Callister
Lesson Plan written by – Bobby Koeth III
Primary Subject – Social Studies
Secondary Subjects – Music
Grade Level – 9-12, College



      Ballou Senior High is a struggling inner city public school located in Washington, D.C. News reports about this school usually focus on its frequent episodes of violence. In contrast to these reports, Casey Callister produced and Michael Patrei directed a 86-minute documentary focusing on a positive influence at this school. They followed the Ballou Senior High School Marching Band on its way to a national band competition. This film shows how the band members overcame the obstacles of their negative surroundings and uplifted themselves and their community.

Three lesson plans were sent to us by the film’s producer. They challenge students to consider education as a civil right and to create proposals for improving their own school.

In this lesson, students examine Ballou High School in terms of the Five Point Initiative of America’s Promise Alliance. They then propose ways to decrease school drop out rates in letters sent to their principal or college president.

You can learn more about the film Ballou at

Lesson Plan Unit Table of Contents:

  1. Colin Powell, America’s Promise, and its Five Points – see lesson below

    Age: High School, College
    Goal: Students will analyze Ballou High School through the lens of America’s Promise and create a proposal for decreasing high school drop out rates.

    Time: Three hours or four 45-minute class periods

  2. Civil Rights

    Age: High School, Middle School

    Goal: Students will learn about significant Civil Rights Movement leaders featured in the film Ballou.

    Time: Three hours or four 45-minute class periods

  3. Proposing to Improve your School

    Age: High School, Middle School

    Goal: Students will assess their school in comparison to Washington DC’s Ballou High School featured in the film Ballou

    Time: Three hours or four 45-minute class periods

I. Colin Powell, America’s Promise and its Five Points

Primary Subject – Social Studies
Secondary Subjects – Music, Language Arts
Age – High School, College


    Students will analyze Ballou High School through the lens of the Five Point Initiative of America’s Promise


    Students will be able to:

    • Identify the 5 Points Initiatives of America’s Promise
    • Recognize the 5 Points Initiatives in the film
    • Apply the 5 Points Initiative of America’s Promise to make recommendations for schools to decrease dropout rates.


  • Film
  • Attachments A-G


    Three hours or four 45-minute class periods


    Journal – Students react to the following statistic and question:

    • Every twenty-six seconds a high school student drops out of school.
    • Why? What do you think are some of the contributing factors?

Main Learning Activity:

  1. Use a biography sheet (from internet) to ensure that students are familiar with Colin Powell.
  2. Distribute the handout on the history of America’s Promise. (Attachment B-G)
  3. Divide the students into five groups. Each group will receive and read a one-page description of one of the Five Points. These groups now become the expert groups on each point. (Attachment A)

    They should be able to:

    • Summarize the point.
    • Use examples to show how it positively impacts youth.
  4. Form new groups with one student from each of the five groups in one new group. Give the students ten minutes to share each of their points with the group.
  5. Introduce the movie and their task:
    • Does the Ballou Senior High Marching Band fulfill the five points?
    • Distribute handout. Students will tally and describe every time they observe one of the five points in action.
  6. Watch the film. When the movie is complete, take initial responses from the movie. Steer the conversation away from, “It was good” or “I liked it” by posing questions:
    • Has this movie made you think differently about your education?
    • Which of the five points did you see the most? Or the least?
    • Which of the five points do you see the most in your school? Or the least?
    • Using one of the five points, suggest what schools (or our school) could do in order keep students in school. Be specific. (if you want the teachers to be more “fun”, describe what those “fun” things are: more games, more discussions, etc.)


      Either in groups or individually, have the students create a proposal indicating what they would like to be improved about their school in order to decrease dropout rates. (Before creating the proposal discuss with class what a letter should contain: date, addressee, opening statement, body, closing, signature, etc.)

The letter should be addressed to the principal or superintendent. If this is being used on a collegiate level, the students should choose to write their letter to their hometown schools, Ballou high school, closest school district to the college, or to the president of their college.

Each proposal should contain:

  • One of the Five Initiatives that is working for the school
  • One reference to the movie
  • One of the Five Initiatives that they hope would be changed at their school and why.
  • Make suggestions as to how to improve on the weakest point.


  • Does the Ballou band follow the criteria of America’s Promise?
  • Does your school follow the criteria of America’s Promise?


Attachment A

      America’s Promise Alliance
      The America’s Promise Alliance grew out of the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future in 1997. At that gathering in Philadelphia, Presidents Clinton, Bush, Carter and Ford (with Nancy Reagan representing President Reagan) challenged America to make children and youth a national priority.
      The Summit – which was also attended by nearly 30 governors, 100 mayors, 145 community delegations, and prominent business leaders – was sponsored by the Points of Light Foundation, the Corporation for National and Community Service and United Way of America. These organizations were among the Founding Partners of the America’s Promise Alliance. Retired General Colin L. Powell became the Alliance’s Founding Chairman. Today, Alma Powell serves as Chair of the Alliance.
      Since 1997, the America’s Promise Alliance has grown to become the nation’s largest multi-sector Alliance focused on the well-being of young people. Today, the Alliance encompasses more than 105 partner organizations representing the business community, nonprofits, communities and policymakers.
      When Hurricane Katrina displaced millions from their homes in 2005, the Alliance launched

Katrina’s Kids

      — an initiative that united local public and nonprofit sectors along with elected officials to ensure disadvantaged young people displaced by natural disasters receive the resources they need including the Five Promises.
      In 2006, the Alliance launched

First Focus

      , a bipartisan advocacy organization committed to making children and their families a priority.
      Read the original

Summit Declaration

      signed by the living presidents.
      In 2007, the Alliance celebrated its 10th Anniversary, including an event attended by Presidents Bush and Clinton. To learn more about how that milestone was recognized, please visit the

10th Anniversary site


Attachment B

      Promise 1: Caring Adults
      All children need support and guidance from caring adults in their families, at schools and in their communities. These include ongoing, secure relationships with parents as well as formal and informal relationships with teachers, mentors, coaches, youth volunteers and neighbors.
      Caring adults are the cornerstone of a child’s development — and for the other four Promises that build success both in childhood and adulthood. Parents come first. But children also need to experience the support from caring adults in all areas of their lives.
      According to

Every Child, Every Promise


      • One-third of teens and 20% of younger children lack quality relationships with their parents
      • Only 8% of young people ages 6 to 17 have a formal mentor
      • More than 40% of young people ages 8-21 say they want more adults in their lives to whom they can turn for help

Learn more about our National Action Strategies to bring more Promises to 15 million children in five years.

Attachment C

Promise 2: Safe Places

All children need to be physically and emotionally safe wherever they are — from the actual places of families, schools, neighborhoods and communities to the virtual places of media. They also need a healthy balance between structured, supervised activities and unstructured time.

It’s important for children to be safe. But safe places alone are not enough. It is equally important for children’s development that these places engage them actively and constructively.

According to Every Child, Every Promise:

  • Only 37% of children and youth experience this promise
  • Between one-fourth and one-third of all young people “never or “only sometimes” feel safe at school and in their communities
  • Only four in 10 young people participate in high-quality activities that teach them needed skills, how to form lasting relationships with others, and how to make big decisions
  • Less than half of parents of children under 18 say that affordable, high-quality after-school activities are available in their communities

Attachment D

      Promise 3: A Healthy Start
      All children need and deserve healthy bodies, healthy minds and healthful habits. These result from regular health check-ups and needed treatment, good nutrition and exercise, healthy skills and knowledge, and good role models of physical and psychological health.
      With increased attention on such issues as upsurges in childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes, Americans have a raised awareness of the importance of a healthy start as a critical developmental resource in a child’s life. Nevertheless, we are falling far short of keeping this Promise. Nine million young people today remain without health insurance. Babies born in the U.S. are less likely to survive until their first birthday than those in 27 other industrialized nations. One in 11 high school students reports attempting suicide.
      According to

Every Child, Every Promise


      • Only 43% of our young people are experiencing this promise
      • More than one-third of teens lack the critical combination of components that make for good health care: health insurance coverage and annual visits to a doctor and a dentist
      • 65% of young people say they wish they knew of more stores and restaurants that sold more healthy foods and drinks
      • Almost 80% of children report feeling stressed each month. One in four say they feel stressed at least once each day

Attachment E

      Promise 4: An Effective Education
      All children need the intellectual development, motivation and skills that equip them for successful work and lifelong learning. These result from having quality learning environments, challenging expectations and consistent guidance and mentoring.
      The number-one predictor of whether you will be successful in life is whether you graduate from high school. In today’s competitive global economy, effective education is more important than ever before.
      Yet more than 25% of our students do not finish high school. The figure is nearly twice as high for African American and Latino students.
      According to

Every Child, Every Promise

      • Only 39% of our teens are receiving this promise
      • More than 40% of parents of younger children and two-thirds of adolescents say their children’s schools do not emphasize academic achievement
      • 60% of 10- to 21-year-olds say their schools should give them more preparation for the real world


Attachment G

      Promise 5 – Opportunities to Help Others
      All children need the chance to make a difference in their families, at schools and in their communities. Knowing how to make a difference comes from having models of caring behavior, awareness of the needs of others, a sense of personal responsibility to contribute to the larger society, and opportunities for volunteering, leadership and service.
      Providing young people with opportunities to make a difference through service instills not only a sense of responsibility but of possibility. Young people want to be involved in making the world a better place; however, far too many lack meaningful opportunities to contribute.
      According to

Every Child, Every Promise


      • Nearly half of our children are not experiencing this promise.
      • Half of parents of young people say they rarely discuss current events with their children
      • One-third of young people say they lack adult role models who volunteer and help others
      • 94 percent of young people want to help make the world a better place

E-Mail Casey Callister!

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