We saw The Bad Kids for the first time when it premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2016, where it won the US Documentary Special Jury Award for vérité filmmaking. And it is truly a pleasure to have worked with the film team, Principal Vonda Viland and ITVS to develop a suite of educational materials to support the film. A year later, as we polish the screening guide, professional development and classroom lessons, the national mood is one of uncertainty, at best.
The Bad Kids is a vérité documentary chronicling one extraordinary principal’s mission to realize the potential of students who attend Black Rock High School. Located in an impoverished Mojave Desert community, Black Rock is only one of California’s alternative schools for students at risk of dropping out. Every student here has fallen so far behind in credits that they have little hope of earning a diploma at a traditional high school. Black Rock is their last chance.
The film is gorgeous, visually and stylistically. The story is, at this moment, exactly what we need. This group of students’ lives, in many ways, have been filled with uncertainty. We hear their stories of hunger, neglect, abuse, substance use, and generational poverty. And yet, they show up to school, they strive, and, with support from the staff and faculty at Black Rock, they begin to thrive. They are resilient and they are capable of anything.
The model at Black Rock that equips the students to graduate is rooted in positivity. Not a naive “everything will be OK” attitude that these students know to be untrue, but a firm belief that hardship teaches and strengthens us, and that, with community, ingenuity and love, what seems to be “bad” can turn into the greatest resource we have.
Check The Bad Kids website or the ITVS Indie Pop Up to find screenings in your community, watch the film, and read the screening guide, and the accompanying professional development and classroom lessons.
The Bad Kids and the accompanying national engagement campaign are part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, public media’s long-term commitment to supporting community-based solutions to the dropout crisis. Supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), more than 128 public radio and television stations have joined forces with more than 1,700 partners and at-risk schools across 48 states and one territory. The Independent Lens series on PBS is supporting the American Graduate initiative by presenting inspiring documentaries that offer tools to foster effective community action to address the high school dropout crisis and ensure greater college success in communities nationwide. Harnessing the power of film to spark dialogue and action, Independent Lens is partnering with local leaders and PBS stations and nationwide to engage communities in being part of the solution through programming and activities centered around the important stories told in documentaries like The Bad Kids.