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180 Days: A Year Inside An American High School

Airs Monday, March 25, 2013 at 10 p.m. & Tuesday, March 26 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Raven Quattlebaum, 17, was not only accepted to college but received a scholarship.

"180 Days: A Year Inside An American High School" is an intimate portrait of life for the first graduating class of Washington Metropolitan High School (DC Met), a public school in Washington, D.C, where only seven percent of students are deemed “proficient” in math and only 19 percent in reading. "180 Days" gives us unprecedented access to students and teachers throughout the school year.

Courtesy of National Black Programming Consortium

The DC CAS Sign outside Washington Metropolitan High School (DC Met).

Courtesy of Will McKinley

After a year of a student run campaign, Washington Metropolitan High School (DC Met) opened its first library.

Courtesy of National Black Programming Consortium

Principal Tanishia Williams Minor

Courtesy of Will McKinley

Raven Coston, a junior, makes her way to school on the bus with her young daughter Serenity.

Courtesy of Will McKinley

Rufus McDowney

Courtesy of Breht Gardner

Tiara Parker

Share Your #26Sec Story

Your voice has power. In fact, it could inspire another student to stay in school. So tell us: What are your daily struggles? What gives you hope about your future? Who or what has inspired you to follow your dreams? Getting involved could impact someone else’s life and make you a winner in more ways than one.

The program is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), that helps communities nationwide understand and implement solutions to address the high- school dropout crisis.

“Each year, one out of every four students makes the life altering decision to drop out of school, resulting in severe consequences for their future and our country,” said Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of CPB.

“Through the ‘American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen’ initiative, national public media programming is helping to increase awareness and understanding of the complexities of the dropout epidemic, and local public television and radio stations are engaging parents, educators and community leaders to find solutions that keep students on the path to a high-school diploma.”

Produced by the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC), "180 Days" chronicles the lives of teachers, students, administrators and parents struggling to keep their students on track to graduation at DC Met. The inner-city school embodies the complex challenges of adapting to the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” school reform initiative, in which school funding and personnel decisions are based in large part on the results of high-stakes standardized tests.

At the center of "180 Days" is a charismatic and outspoken young principal, Tanishia Williams Minor, who is in her second year as head of the school. Despite low test scores and numerous other issues, 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 administration at DC Public Schools. Her optimism that the students can succeed seems indefatigable, but even she admits, “I believe we can move mountains, but the students have to be here for us to do it.”

Students featured in this film include soft-spoken but wise-beyond-years Raven Coston, a 17-year-old who was displaced from New Orleans with her family by Hurricane Katrina and is now trying to get through school while raising a baby, maintaining a relationship with the baby’s father and working part-time; Raven Quattlebaum, an 18-year-old senior who grew up in the foster care system and who used to spend her days robbing and assaulting people, but is determined to turn her life around and go to college.

Also featured are Rufus McDowney, a bright and charasmatic16-year-old sophomore who has been in and out of the juvenile justice system since the age of 13; Tiara Parker, an aspirational 18-year-old senior who has good grades but may not be able to afford college; and Delaunte Bennett, an 18-year-old sophomore who has been kicked out of numerous schools for getting into fights and now lags two school years behind other kids his age, in large part because he misses so many of his classes.

Like many other high-poverty schools, truancy, or chronic absenteeism, is an issue that plagues DC Met and is a leading indicator for dropping out. In 2011, nearly 50 percent of students from DC Met could be classified as truant.

Throughout "180 Days," faculty members scour roll call reports to see who’s showing up for homeroom and who’s not, and drive through the streets of the nation’s capital evangelizing kids, parents and sometimes grandparents about the importance of their high-school diplomas. In one powerful scene, the basketball coach reminds his team that if they do not show up for school, they cannot stay on the team — to which one of the players responds by walking out of the gym as cameras roll.

“We all hear about the national school reform effort, but rarely do we get to see deep inside the schools that are most impacted by policies to improve public education,” said Jacquie Jones, executive producer of the film. “The challenges that teachers and administrators face are extraordinary — from student and parent deaths from violent crime and chronic illnesses to homelessness, discipline and safety issues, pregnancies and disengagement. When we look in from this lens, the story is a different one — one of uncommon passion and commitment that teachers and school leaders, like those at DC Met, show as they do everything they can to help these kids succeed and see the value in their own education.”

Framed by complex and layered national and local politics, "180 Days" is a uniquely intimate journey through a year in the lives of students, teachers and school leaders in one Washington, D.C., public high school. The real lives at the center of "180 Days," most especially those of the five students whose stories take the viewer from the day one to day 180, give PBS viewers rare insight beyond statistics, test scores and policies into the human price that is paid when schools “fail.”

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Preview: 180 Days: A Year Inside An American High School

Your browser does not support this object. Content can be viewed at actual source page: http://video.kpbs.org/video/2330321036

Watch Preview on PBS. See more from 180 Days.

Above: This special gives space and breadth to our nation’s education reform debate by giving the audience a first-hand view of what happens in a school that meets the needs of the most challenged students in new and sometimes non-traditional ways. Observe a tireless team of teachers and school leaders dealing with the usual antics of teenagers and the changing tides of a fast-moving administration that is responding to pressures from outside partners, politicians and forces in the community. A surprising and dramatic end to the school year sheds light on both the extraordinary challenges and opportunities today’s public schools face.

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180 Days: Raven's Story

Above: Raven Q. is a tough kid who spent much of her life in foster homes. She finds friendships on the streets and soon gets pulled into a world of violence. A friend's death is a wake up call for her, and she becomes focused on her own success. Watch Raven's story, part of the upcoming premiere of "180 Days: A Year Inside An American High School." Coming March 25th + 26th, 2013 only on PBS.

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180 Days: Principal Minor in 60 Seconds

Above: Principal Tanishia Williams Minor is responsible for the first graduating class of Washington Metropolitan High School (DC Met). Watch her put her whole self into helping these students navigate sometimes unsparingly difficult lives that threaten their academic success. Premieres March 25th and 26th only on PBS. Find out more at 180SchoolDays.org

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180 Days: #IAmTheLight

Above: Every 26 seconds, a student drops out of high school and that's over 1.2 million teenagers annually. So we're recruiting voices to help bring those numbers down. Join us in achieving our goal of sharing these inspirational stories with over 1.2 million people. Join the movement at 180SchoolDays.org/community.

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Above: Brooklyn's High School for Innovation and Media (iAM) was part of the team that helped build the #iAMtheLight social media campaign for the documentary "180 Days: A Year Inside An American High School," coming March 25th + 26th, 2013 on PBS. The campaign encourages young people to share their struggles, no matter how dark, more openly as they walk toward graduation - a way to motivate themselves to success. Here the iAM students candidly share why they think their school was the right choice to amplify this message, with it's own history of drop out.