Friday, June 26, 2009

Wilma Stephenson discusses PRESSURE COOKER

Wilma Stephenson, the dedicated Philadelphia culinary arts teacher who stars in the winning documentary Pressure Cooker, made a special visit to BMFI last night for an audience Q&A at 7:15pm. She talked about teaching, what the kids in the film have been up to, and how the project got started.
Filmmaker Jennifer Grausman first approached Mrs. Stephenson about filmming Pressure Cooker on the lead of her father, who created a scholarship program that supports students going to culinary arts colleges. The filmmakers shot over 300 hours of footage in Mrs. Stephenson's classroom throughout the 2006-07 school year, eventually focusing mainly on three students determined to win the coveted scholarships. Two years later, all of the students featured are still in college and doing well.

In BMFI President Juliet Goodfriend's private chat with her, Mrs. Stephenson made the point that we need to be less judgmental of today’s youth who suffer from abjectly bad parenting and teaching. Ms. Goodfriend says, "Her classroom expectations inspire her students and are comparable to those which many of us experienced in our high schools eons ago. She has the same standards, but works with the most unpromising students (as well as those with high GPAs) and gets them on the right track."

Mrs. Stephenson has degrees in fields from Home Economics to Computer Science, Behavioral Psychology, and even a minor in Chemistry, and she has taught ALL those subjects in her forty years of teaching at Frankford High, a public school in Northeast Philadelphia.

Since beginning the Culinary Arts program in 1999, more than 53 of Mrs. Stephenson's students have received scholarships to four-year and culinary colleges, winning more than $3,000,000 in scholarships. Among her former students, she estimates that 90% go into the food or hospitality field! What a record!

Her commitment to her students goes way beyond what we see in the film. She takes them on college visits, buys them their freshmen supplies—even sheets and towels—and talks to them all the time (they all have her cell number). She has virtually no budget, but does what she feels needs to be done and has no worries about using her own funds to fill the gaps.

What a remarkable teacher! Thanks for coming, Mrs. Stephenson.

Pressure Cooker is currently playing at BMFI.
Check our website for showtimes:

See a trailer and find more information online at the film's offical site:


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