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Henry Barthes is an educator with a talent to connect with his students. Yet as a substitute teacher he hides his gift to avoid emotional connections. When an assignment places him at a school with a burned-out administration and an apathetic student body, he becomes a role model as a teacher. His emotional bond with the students and teachers help him see he is not alone in a life and death struggle to find beauty in a seemingly vicious and loveless world.
Melinda, a smart and spirited high school freshman, retreats into self-imposed silence after she is raped one night at a party. Eventually through her work in art class, she begins to reach out to others.