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'The Bad Kids' Documents High School For At-Risk Students

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Black Rock High School principal, Vonda Viland speaks with student, Lee Bridges in a still from the documentary "The Bad Kids."
'The Bad Kids' Documents High School For At-Risk Students
'The Bad Kids' Documents High School For At-Risk Students GUEST: Vonda Viland, principal, Black Rock High School

The continuation schools of California are often thought of as schools of last resort back of our students go when they are at risk of not graduating because they have fallen too far behind her problems at home prevent them from attending school all day. The bad kids -- a new independent lens documentary profiles the school with a charismatic leader. Spoke with Blackrock principal Vonda Viland about her work. Can you share about your student body on the types of circumstances that lead to Blackrock. Our students come to us from a traditional high school where they have not been successful for one reason or another. But got to the point where they cannot graduates of the come here to get caught up in the credits and eventually graduate. What are some of those issues? Most of our students have encountered some form of trauma in their lives so they may come from poverty or a family where there is abuse or there may be drug addiction or how does alcoholism or they may be caregivers of their brothers and sisters. They may be homeless may have to work to support this out -- families. If you are looking for a place to hide this is it -- not it. You can let other people answer the questions and then get up and leave. At our school the teachers will watch over your shoulders a lot. At our school we had -- we want you to demand that we hope you. The teachers are watching over the students but you see there's a lot of independent study. I wonder if you could describe what a student day is like a Blackrock. That you directed assignments based on the standards two days a week. They work independently on contract work they work with us on taking all the assignments that a student needs to contract -- accomplished to get a diploma. It would break them down to credit. The students progress in incremental levels in their own. Is very much like keeping a checkbook. They progress through the assignments and the required credits. In what ways does this differ from other high schools in the state? Kids are not set here for punishment or punitive nature. They are sent here because they're having difficulty. By the time the come to us they really want to help and I want to turn their lives around we also don't have any punishments at our school. We work solely on positives from just a simple thing like I am glad you are here to your teachers told me are doing a great job. These are students who traditionally have not had any positive reinforcement in their lives. It encourages them and motivates them to try harder that's the primary difference between any continuation schools. What I discussed earlier with a partial credit is also unique. Many schools in the state continue to use a five credit increment and we found that is just too much and too overwhelming for the students were asked when we can break it down into partial credits such as .1 or .5 they can see that and they can see their success and feel they can accomplish in which motivates them to try harder. There's a moment in the film where you are speaking to a student whose emotional. -- About being so close to graduating. It is scary and I don't want to graduate from high school. It's scary thinking about how I will be an adult and I don't want to go up. You don't have to grow up. It looks so hard. Is a common reaction make it from students that they are afraid of living a life that is similar to the parents. It is. In fact 90% of the time as the students near graduation a slowdown in their work and start dragging their feet and I end up having to be the mama bird and tell them they are ready to fly. Part of the issue is that there is a waiting list to get into Blackrock. That's one of the hardest things is that I get calls all day long from people wanting to get their students in here and I said I understand you have a unique situation but unfortunately advocate on the waiting list has a story and we have to kind of stick to the waitlist. It's very hard to tell someone that is motivated they have to move away for a while. Your pension that it can be a challenge to the work and school and that's an area where you cannot directly intervene I am wondering what your approach is and what has been some effective solutions. I believe in addressing everything head-on. I do not try to sugarcoat things to the kid. We live in such a world isolated areas that there are not a lot of resources available. For example our newest homeless shelter is 90 miles away so the staff and I do all we can to help meet the kids needs whether it be counseling needs or providing a basic necessities or finding a couch for them to sleep on for a while until they can get a place to live. Is there a solution to all the problems that sometimes I have to say that them I do not have a solution but I am here and I love you and I know that you can accomplish great things. A student has the and someone on a school trip and you are forced to initiate expulsion proceedings. You say that this is personally different decision for you. Your daughter is me 40 years ago. I do not want this to be a roadblock. I do not want this to set you back. We all cried a little bit on Friday together because we love you. We all make mistakes and learn from them and we go forward What was your high school career Mike and what helped turn things around for you. I had incredible teachers who were patient and persistent and I saw something in me that they were willing to deal with my shenanigans and my difficulties at the time and I just feel so blessed for that. I keep in touch with them and I owe so much to them for seeing something and encouraging me to move forward. That was Blackrock high school principal Vonda Viland you can watch it tomorrow on my or Thursday morning at 11 on KPBS TV.

The more than 400 continuation high schools in California are often thought of as schools of last resort. They’re where students go when they’re at risk of not graduating because they’ve fallen too far behind, they work part-time or problems at home prevent them from attending school all day.

"The Bad Kids," a new Independent Lens documentary, profiles Yucca Valley’s Black Rock High School, a continuation school with a charismatic leader. Principal Vonda Viland said most of the students have experienced some sort of trauma.

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Students are not sent to Black Rock as a punishment but are actively seeking help, Viland said. The school also doesn't dole out punishments itself.

"We work solely on positives, from a simple thing like, 'I'm glad you're here,'" Viland said. "These are the students who, traditionally, have not had any positive reinforcement in their lives. And so we find that just starting by giving them a small initial positive encourages them and motivates them to try harder.

"The Bad Kids" will be available to stream online starting Tuesday and will air Thursday at 11 a.m. on KPBS-2.

Viland joins KPBS Midday Edition on Monday with more on students' fears of graduating and what helped turn her own life around.