Located in an impoverished Mojave Desert community, Black Rock Continuation High School is one of California’s alternative schools for students at risk of dropping out. Every student here has fallen so far behind in credits that they have no hope of earning a diploma at a traditional high school. Black Rock is their last chance.
The Bad Kids is an observational documentary that chronicles one extraordinary principal’s mission to realize the potential of these students whom the system has deemed lost causes. Employing a verité approach during a year at the school, the film follows Principal Vonda Viland as she coaches three at-risk teens––a new father who can’t support his family, a young woman grappling with sexual abuse, and an angry young man from an unstable home––through the traumas and obstacles that rob them of their spirit and threaten their goal of a high school diploma.
But The Bad Kids is not just a story of one teacher making a difference. It is a look at a practical model for how public education can address and combat the crippling effects of poverty in the lives of other American schoolchildren. Parallel to her efforts with the three main characters, we also see Viland’s philosophies in constant application: through the customs of the school, through her attentions to other teens and their crises, and through her tireless efforts to promote the school’s mission both within the district and at the state level.
The Bad Kids is not a story of triumph against all odds, because that isn’t the reality of these students’ lives or expectations. It is a story of taking achievable steps toward pride and security.