A rookie teacher (Hilary Swank) takes on a freshman English class at a Long Beach high school torn by racial strife, where her enthusiasm for Homer and Emily Dickinson is no match for her sullen and hopeless students. Casting about for a way to reach them, she gives them the assignment of maintaining diaries, which she will read only if they want her to. The old To Sir, with Love formula is a surefire winner, and writer-director Richard LaGravenese (basing his script on real-life teacher Erin Gruwell) never strays far from it. There’s nothing here we don’t know is coming, Swank overdoes the wide-eyed naiveté a bit in the early scenes, and her enemies (other teachers, resentful husband, etc.) are turned into cardboard villains who just don’t understand. Still, it all works; such is the appeal of hope.