Follow the first year of an experimental high school in the South Bronx.
Dir. Christopher Wong, 2009, 53 min
Okay, so I missed the review yesterday. I had a lot of stuff on my plate. BUT! I did watch this yesterday, I swear. I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it until now. And hey! This is my two-hundredth Doc of the Day! *kazoo noise* Anyway…
Originally aired on Independent Lens, Whatever It Takes follows the first year of operations at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics. The BCSM is one of many small schools started in the South Bronx in recent years in an attempt to fight the pervasive poverty infecting the community. Leading the school is novice principal Edward Tom, who hopes that the closer attention and higher standards given to students will improve their prospects in life.
Tom is kind of an amazing character. He’s a dream teacher: tough but fair, understanding and patient, and utterly devoted to his charges. At the beginning of each school day, he greets every single one of the students by name as they arrive. And if they don’t arrive, he checks in to see what’s what. The guy’s a saint. It’s even more remarkable to know where he came from; for who knows what reason, Tom left a cushy executive position to go into education.
But even a superhumanly good principal can’t save a class of kids by himself. Even at a dedicated project like the BCSM, social problems inexorably worm their way in. Gangs, drugs, and general hopelessness are still an ever-present threat to these kids’s futures. One student, Sharifea, embodies this conflict. She has incredible promise, but having to care for two siblings and deal with a crack-addicted mother threatens to keep her down. This is Sharifea’s story just as much as it is Tom’s, and watching the two of them try to figure out a way for her to get into a Dartmouth program is intense.
This story is the dilemma of the inner city in microcosm, with racial tensions, economic frictions, and the temptations of crime ever lurking. It’s about the tribulations that face every educator and every student in this realm. It’s a brief film, but it’s only as long as the story it tells needs it to be. Whatever It Takes is an inspiration, and a heartfelt paean to those fighting to rejuvenate the state of learning in our crumbling cities.