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180 Days: A Year Inside an American School

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Watch Part 1 Thursday, October 1 at 7pm & Part 2 Friday, October 2, 2015 at 7pm on WORLD​

180 DAYS:  A YEAR INSIDE AN AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL is an intimate portrait of life for the first graduating class of Washington Metropolitan High School (DC Met), a public school in Washington, D.C, where only seven percent of students are deemed “proficient” in math and only 19 percent in reading. The program is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), that helps communities nationwide understand and implement solutions to address the high- school dropout crisis.

“Each year, one out of every four students makes the life altering decision to drop out of school, resulting in severe consequences for their future and our country,” said Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of CPB. “Through the ‘American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen’ initiative, national public media programming is helping to increase awareness and understanding of the complexities of the dropout epidemic, and local public television and radio stations are engaging parents, educators and community leaders to find solutions that keep students on the path to a high-school diploma.”

180 DAYS chronicles the lives of teachers, students, administrators and parents struggling to keep their students on track to graduation at DC Met. The inner-city school embodies the complex challenges of adapting to the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” school reform initiative, in which school funding and personnel decisions are based in large part on the results of high-stakes standardized tests.

At the center of 180 DAYS is a charismatic and outspoken young principal, Tanishia Williams Minor, who is in her second year as head of the school. Despite low test scores and  numerous other issues, Principal Minor remains optimistic that her students can succeed despite the personal and academic obstacles they face and the scrutiny that she and the school are under from the administration at DC Public Schools. Her optimism that the students can succeed seems indefatigable, but even she admits, “I believe we can move mountains, but the students have to be here for us to do it.”

Students featured in this film include soft-spoken but wise-beyond-years Raven Coston, a 17-year-old who was displaced from New Orleans with her family by Hurricane Katrina and is now trying to get through school while raising a baby, maintaining a relationship with the baby’s father and working part-time; Raven Quattlebaum, an 18-year-old senior who grew up in the foster care system and who used to spend her days robbing and assaulting people, but is determined to turn her life around and go to college; Rufus McDowney, a bright and charasmatic16-year-old sophomore who has been in and out of the juvenile justice system since the age of 13; Tiara Parker, an aspirational 18-year-old senior who has good grades but may not be able to afford college; and Delaunte Bennett, an 18-year-old sophomore who has been kicked out of numerous schools for getting into fights and now lags two school years behind other kids his age, in large part because he misses so many of his classes.

Like many other high-poverty schools, truancy, or chronic absenteeism, is an issue that plagues DC Met and is a leading indicator for dropping out. In 2011, nearly 50 percent of students from DC Met could be classified as truant. Throughout 180 DAYS, faculty members scour roll call reports to see who’s showing up for homeroom and who’s not, and drive through the streets of the nation’s capital evangelizing kids, parents and sometimes grandparents about the importance of their high-school diplomas. In one powerful scene, the basketball coach reminds his team that if they do not show up for school, they cannot stay on the team — to which one of the players responds by walking out of the gym as cameras roll.

“We all hear about the national school reform effort, but rarely do we get to see deep inside the schools that are most impacted by policies to improve public education,” said Jacquie Jones, executive producer of the film. “The challenges that teachers and administrators face are extraordinary — from student and parent deaths from violent crime and chronic illnesses to homelessness, discipline and safety issues, pregnancies and disengagement. When we look in from this lens, the story is a different one — one of uncommon passion and commitment that teachers and school leaders, like those at DC Met, show as they do everything they can to help these kids succeed and see the value in their own education.”

Framed by complex and layered national and local politics, 180 DAYSis a uniquely intimate journey through a year in the lives of students, teachers and school leaders in one Washington, DC, public high school. The real lives at the center of 180 DAYS, most especially those of the five students whose stories take the viewer from the day one to day 180, give PBS viewers rare insight beyond statistics, test scores and policies into the human price that is paid when schools “fail.”