Welcome to the new school year! Got your school supplies? Your laptop charged? Your classes planned out? Let’s take some time to visit a tiny high school on the Navajo Nation reservation, an academically intense public high school in San Francisco, and an alternative school for 11th and 12th graders near California’s Mojave Desert. Although each school faces unique challenges, you’ll see the kids, whatever their circumstances, all have hopes and dreams.
In this gorgeously filmed documentary director Jared Jakins takes us into Navajo Mountain High School, one of the most remote schools in the continental United States. Here, where the mountains meet the desert, where isolation and poverty pervade the community, the students fight against the loss of their language and culture. Granite is unmoored as he struggles to connect in school after the death of his little brother. Ilii, an artist and mental health advocate, wonders how her sexuality fits into the Navajo community. Noah is seeking to form a new relationship with his father after his parents’ traumatic divorce. The stunning landscape dazzles, but the quiet reflections of the kids are what lingers.
Welcome to Lowell High School in San Francisco where no matter how smart you are, the kid next to you is 10 times smarter and a virtuoso violinist to boot. Even these students, the ones with top grades, tons of extracurricular activities and enviable SAT scores feel the pressure to get admitted to a top-notch college. Forget UCLA and Berkley, it’s all about the Ivies at Lowell!
In Try Harder! filmmaker Debbie Lum follows several stressed-out seniors and a few controlling parents as they navigate the crazy world of college admissions. Even outstanding students might not get into their first-choice schools and Asian American discrimination may influence admissions decisions. These kids are so endearingly earnest, so hopeful with their dreams, that you can’t help feeling a bit heartbroken too when inevitable rejections arrive.
The students attending Black Rock High School in The Bad Kids are kids struggling with trauma both large and small. There’s Joey, a gifted musician who hates his mother’s drug use but abuses drugs himself. Lee, a young father who understands the value of earning a diploma but often struggles with motivation. Jennifer, a depressed young woman haunted by her childhood molestation. Black Rock High School, a self-paced, alternative school for 11th and 12th graders who are truant or at risk of dropping out, is a last chance at earning their high school diploma.
Although the kids’ stories are affecting, the real hero of The Bad Kids is the principal of Black Rock, the indefatigable Miss Veland. She cajoles, she counsels, she believes in the students even when they don’t believe in themselves. Veland cries when expelling students and proudly escorts graduating students down the school halls.