Maria, a 15-year-old girl, lives with her mother, Célia, and her brother Anderson in a favela in São Gonçalo, Rio de Janeiro. Maria wants more to her life than the traditional fate for a young black woman from the favela: she believes that studying is the only way to avoid getting involved with drug trafficking, an early pregnancy or a drug addiction.
Maria wants to study at a “strong” institution and takes part in an essay contest at a renowned private school in the South Side of Rio. Her text impresses the evaluation board and she receives a scholarship.
In addition to her, two teenagers also earn scholarships: Zilton, her neighbor and friend, and Aline, a studious but influentiable girl. “I had the merit of winning, now I just have to move on” is her hope and that of the other fellows. However, their presence is not well-received by their upper-middle class colleagues, who constantly bully and humiliate them. Therefore, the three students have a big challenge ahead of them: keep their grades high, prove they deserve to be there and adapt to a world of privilege that never belonged to them.