PAULA DOFAT has a particularly critical job at a school that
aims to find every student find a college that will be the right fit - socially,
academically and even financially - for her. A strong-willed yet truly caring
figure, Dofat came to Baltimore ready to achieve big things, having previously
worked at a Young Women's Leadership Network School in the Bronx. In the film
she is seen guiding students through the enervating application process and
speaking to them honestly about what is realistic and where they need to push.
"I was a first generation student who received very little guidance or support
from my guidance counselor because I wasn't in the top of my graduating class.
My parents could not help me; they did not know what to do because they had
never been to college. As a result, I ended up being a 'serial' transfer
student, racked up enormous student debt, dropped out of college, and then
finished my bachelor and master degrees in my 40's," says Dofat. "Realizing all
this could have been avoided with the right support system, it became my mission
to make sure as many students as possible did not experience what I went
Dofat does whatever is necessary for families to know and understand the college
application, financial aid, and college acceptance process. This includes home
visits, meeting as early as 6:45am at school, staying late, and making sure
parents and students have her cell phone number and text to reach out mornings,
nights, and even weekends. She takes pride in the fact that the school
guarantees 100% college acceptance, all juniors are enrolled in a pre-college
residential summer program, the top seniors have the option to visit their first
out of state college choice paid for by the school. The school also partners
with local college Financial Aid Counselors to insure that all of the graduating
seniors complete the FAFSA, and an Alumni Support Coordinator visit every
graduate on her campus no matter how close or far and follows/supports them
through the next four years.
The beating heart of STEP is the determined trio of steppers who, though
thoroughly unique in their personalities, pursuits and dreams, are knit together
in a united aim to both win the Bowie State step competition and get accepted
into college: Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger and Tayla Solomon.
"I didn't consciously decide to focus on Tayla, Cori, and Blessin as the central
characters of STEP," notes Amanda Lipitz. "I always say that if I wanted to I
could go and pick out three other girls and make a whole other movie that would
be equally engaging. No matter who I chose, it would touch people because every
single girl on this team has a story that is worth telling."
Nevertheless, as Lipitz and her crew followed the step team, these three young
women and their families came to the fore, ready to share their private worlds
candidly with the camera.