December 22, 2016 — The acclaimed, award-winning documentary, The Bad Kids, about the efforts of a high school principal and her staff to turn around the lives of the troubled kids, opens theatrically tomorrow.
Principal Vonda Viland, of Black Rock Continuation High School, deals on a daily basis with kids whose young lives have been affected by poverty, drug abuse, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, divorce, homelessness and parental drug issues. These are kids whose personal issues are overwhelming — and have destroyed their chances to thrive in a traditional educational setting. These are kids that the rest of the education establishment has given up on.
Viland takes it on herself to focus on the students as individuals, attempting to deal with the stresses and traumas that their difficult lives leave them open to. She concerns herself primarily with keeping the students in school, recognizing that academic achievement can come later. She develops a personal relationship with all at-risk kids (she often gets into school before 5:00, calling those she feels are likely to miss school; she has been known to pick up students in her car if they have no way to get in). Students are treated with respect, greeted by name at the door. They are taught to respect themselves and to think about the future. For many of these kids, this is the first time that anyone has treated them in this way.
The Bad Kids documents the way Principal Viland and her exceptional and caring staff look out for these young people. It focusses on three students, Joey, Jennifer and Lee, whose lives are a trauma cycle of abuse, homelessness, drug abuse (their own and their parents’) and teenage pregnancy. It shows that for these three students (and by extension, for so many others) being treated with respect is a new experience; being taught to think of themselves as people with a future is both frightening and eye-opening.
Black Rock, and other schools like it, are proving that it is the school system that is failing, not the children. Black Rock’s graduation rate is rising every year. And a number of the young people who were looked on as hopeless are coming through and succeeding against all odds.
The Bad Kids opens theatrically on December 23. Check here for theaters and times.