180 Days: A Year Inside an American H...
About This Episode
Whether they are preparing for college or becoming teen moms, the students at Washington Metropolitan High School (or DC Met) face many challenges with spirit and resilience and welcome us to challenge many of our own assumptions as we travel with the first graduating class to commencement. Led by a charismatic and outspoken young principal, DC Met invites us in for an unprecedented first-hand account of life inside of the school reform movement.
At the center of the 180 Days is a charismatic and outspoken young principal, Tanishia Williams Minor, who is in her second year as head of the school. 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 school board, her optimism that the students can succeed seems indefatigable.
Students featured in this film include Raven Coston, a 17-year-old who left New Orleans with her mother following Katrina and is trying to get through school while raising a baby and working part-time; Delauntte Bennet, an 18-year-old sophomore who has been kicked out of numerous schools for getting into fights; Raven Quattlebaum, an 18-year-old who used to spend her days robbing and assaulting people, but is now determined to turn her life around and go to college; Rufus McDowney, 16, who has been in and out of the juvenile justice system since the age of 13; and Tiara Parker, 17, who has good grades but may not be able to afford college.
An issue that plagues DC Met, and is a leading indicator for dropping out, is chronic absenteeism. In 2010, nearly 50% of students from DC Met missed 15 or more days of school. Throughout the film, faculty members scour roll call reports to see who is showing up for homeroom. The basketball coach reminds his team that if they do not show up to school they cannot stay on the team—to which one of the players responds by walking out of the gym as cameras roll. Adding urgency to the problem, an audit two months into the school year gauges how many of the registered students are actually in school, in order to determine the budget for the following year.
Tension mounts over the year at DC Met as the school counts down the days until the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (CAS) test, a standardized test in reading and math. The result of the test, which placed the school in the “in need of improvement,” category the previous year, may determine which faculty members and school leaders will stay and which will leave in the 2012-13 school year. In D.C., the tests make up 50% of a teacher’s evaluation, more than any other school system in the country.