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180 Days: American high school, Black education

Robyn H. Jimenez | 3/31/2013, 5:26 p.m. | Updated on 3/31/2013, 5:26 p.m.
Tanishia Williams Minor Breht Gardner

One of the programs that made a difference in the school was similar to tutoring or mentoring for new teachers.

"The district-wide initiative was called Impact," Minor explained. "That was the method by which teachers would be graded. I had a really great instructional coach. We sat down as an administrative team and came up with the way in which we would work to build capacity in our first-year teachers. So that was really a leadership decision in how we would roll out support and what that would look like."

She said each school uses the Impact plan, but incorporates it into its own plan. Though there were a few first-year teachers following the customized mentorship program, the film followed the growth of Jonathan Smythe as he learned how to use his ivy-league education to educate at-risk youth.

"We definitely saw growth with our first-year teachers. Each and every one of those teachers had higher scores by the end of the school year," she continued.

Another key player was Gary Barnes, the in-school suspension coordinator and coach of the schools new basketball team. He uses his background in criminal justice and knowledge of the streets, in combination with his father-figure demeanor and disciplinarian skills, to guide the students.

The biggest part of the story is the students themselves.

"I think there's so much written about making sure your school has a student focus ... a student focus ... a student focus. But I really think that there is power in that and I know that is one of the things we did really well," Minor stated confidently. "We all knew our students. Another part that I don't think made it into the film. I have a student that transferred into the school from Duke Ellington, actually - a pretty hoity-toity performing arts school - and she had a rough time there and I think she perfectly articulated. And at Duke Ellington its 'Hey you student.' Its not even, 'Hey, Ebony,' but its 'Hey Ebo.' We get nicknames here and everyone knows who we are. So I think [what's important is] just absolutely knowing your student population - knowing their strengths, knowing their weaknesses, and then working accordingly."

The documentary also features five students who are determined not to let their circumstances decide their future, and educators who strive to make a difference in the lives of the student who are depending on them.

The youngest is Rufus McDowney, 16, who has been in trouble with the law and is currently dealing with the death of his mother. But he's also a charming and intelligent young man who wants more out of life than what has been given him.

Raven Quattlebaum, 18, who has suffered child abuse, lived with drug-addicted parents, and is being shuffled from foster home to foster home. Yet, her faith keeps her strong and striving for success.

Delaunte Bennett sees drugs and gang violence every day. He is the oldest of the group and still in the 10th grade. Yet, he manages to press toward his dreams with a positive attitude about graduating high school.