STEP to it

Originally published July 17, 2017, in Baltimore Style.

The college admissions process is difficult enough for the average high school senior.

Add the pressure of being in the first graduating class of a school with the goal of college acceptance for all its students, having a less-than-easy home life and living in Baltimore the year after Uprising, and you have some seriously stressful circumstances–but it’s nothing the 2016 class of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW) couldn’t face.

Three members of this class is the focus of “STEP,” a new documentary from Fox Searchlight Pictures and director Amanda Lipitz that chronicles the lives of Blessin Giraldo, Tayla Solomon and Cori Grainger in their final year at BLSYW, an all-girls public charter school.

The three girls are all members of the “Lethal Ladies,” BLSYW’s step team and a source of even more pressure–after a winless year, the team seeks a chance for redemption at a final competition  featuring schools from the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.

Though Lipitz, whose mother founded BLSYW, had camera crews filming all 19 members of the step team (to the tune of over 400 hours of footage), Giraldo, Solomon and Grainger stood out.

Giraldo, the team’s founder, is outgoing and creative but struggles in school and at home. Solomon brings what Paula Dofat, director of college counseling at BLSYM calls a “girl next door” vibe, counteracted by her vivacious mother. And Grainger, the class’ valedictorian, dreams of attending Johns Hopkins but worries about affordability.

“I want [viewers] to take away that there is a Cori, a Blessin and a Tayla in every city,” Dofat says. “It doesn’t matter what your economic status is.”

She says the girls are representative, too, of the trials and tribulations of their class as a whole.

“They wanted to leave legacies in so many areas,” she says. “We needed to set the bar high.”

STEP, which won a special jury prize for inspirational filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival and was later picked up by Fox Searchlight Pictures, debuts August 3. Check out the trailer here.

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