What It's Really Like to Be an 'At-Risk' Youth in America

Black Rock High School is an alternative public high school, one of around 500 in California’s Continuation Education Program. "The Bad Kids" who attend are all at-risk students — and now the subjects of a riveting new PBS documentary.


Keith Fulton's and Lou Pepe's film goes inside the second-chance school, located in California's Mojave Desert, to examine how public education can tackle poverty on a national level.

"If you're looking for a place to hide, this isn't it. At our school, we want you to demand that we help you. There is no shame in asking for help," Vonda Viland, the school's principal explains.

Viland counsels students on myriad issues, ranging from drug addiction to sexual assault. The vast majority come from poverty-stricken homes. Some are parents themselves.

"I never really had a childhood, like other kids thought the world was all happy; I'd tell them 'No, the world is actually a dark place,'" "Lee," a Black Rock senior and teen father observes. "I'm not just going to be some deadbeat and not go anywhere in life. I stay dedicated to my girlfriend, my work and my child." 

"My whole seventh, eighth, ninth grade years, I really don't even remember school those years," another student, "Jennifer" reveals. "They really didn't exist. When I was younger, my mom just, like, left. I don't know where she went; I just started living with my grandma.  

"My dad, my real dad, just been in and out of my life. He's never really been there for me," she added. "Jennifer" was molested by her grandmother's husband after moving in.

"I was probably the most depressed teenager, I just don't think teenagers are supposed to be that depressed," she admits. 

"I was never a bad kid," a third student, "Joey" concludes in the film. "I mean, junior high, yeah, but I just had a lot of stuff going on in my life. My mom was on drugs... my stepdad was on drugs too. I wanted to be like him. I decided to break into houses and steal stuff from everyone... now I'm on probation."

"How are we going to do this?" a frustrated Principal Viland asks "Joey." 

"I don't know, I've never really done school work," he tells her.

"The Bad Kids",  which received the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Vérité Filmmaking at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, premieres March 20, 2017 on PBS.

Watch: "The Bad Kids": Exclusive Clip

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