With the end of summer comes the promises of a new school year. For some students, this brings the promise of a fresh start, but for those whose time in high school is coming to an end, it brings a whole new set of challenges, emotions and stress.
National Geographic’s new four-part documentary series American High School goes inside the senior year of students from Orangeburg, SC, who share the highs and lows of their academic, athletic and personal achievements over the course of one year. The emotional and inspirational story premieres on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at 9/8c, giving viewers a front-of-the-classroom seat to witness firsthand what it’s like to walk those halls every day for four years.
Each week at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School — affectionately called O-W — brings a different set of challenges for the students and their tenacious principal, Dr. Stephen Peters: school violence, low test scores, teen pregnancy, issues of segregation and race, and students who are financially struggling.
“Changing school culture is not an easy task,” says Peters, who serves not only as the students’ leader, but as a friend, mentor and parental figure to many. When asked about his mission at O-W, Peters says, “It’s about being an adult in their life that they can depend on.”
Among the students viewers will meet:
Jalena, the valedictorian of her class who is involved in every aspect of campus life. A member of the drill team and a part of the National Society of Black Engineers, Jalena is also passionate about her studies and pursuing her dream of studying computer engineering at the college level. Will her success be enough to get her into her dream school, Georgia Tech?
Rendull, the popular captain of the basketball team who has to juggle his pursuit for an athletic scholarship, academics and raising a new baby in his final year of high school.
Vernon, a well known and liked student who is the only male on O-W’s cheerleading squad. His dream is to escape the small town of Orangeburg after graduation, pursuing a new path in New York City.
Mykenzie, one of the few white students at the school. Her mother transferred her to the school to try to counter the town’s racial segregation, but Mykenzie is having a hard time fitting in. An incident at her midyear birthday party further separates her from her new classmates.
From Friday night football to graduation, from dates at the diner to senior prom, American High School captures intimate life-changing moments of these teenagers’ journey to adulthood. It is high school — real high school — as you’ve never seen it before, offering unique insights into what it means to be a young and underprivileged student in America today.
Following the Sept. 26 premiere of American High School, National Geographic will also air a special hourlong documentary, Without a Net. Directed by Rory Kennedy, and narrated by Grammy and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, the special explores the digital divide faced by students around the country who have limited access to computers and the internet. U.S. Department of Labor statistics suggest that by 2020, 77 percent of all jobs in this country will require computer skills, making access to this sort of training imperative to ensuring the success of students after graduation. The documentary goes in depth with students, teachers, parents and policy experts to explore the fundamentals of the problem and what some private entities, including Verizon, the Gates Foundation, Adobe, Apple and others, are doing to solve it.
American High School: The Quest to Be the Best
Premieres Tuesday, Sept, 26, at 9/8c
Charismatic new principal Dr. Peters arrives on a mission to improve grades and discipline, but a gang brawl gives him a swift reality check. Meanwhile gifted Jalena begins college applications, but with tuition costing more than a house, will she be able to go? We meet Mykenzie, the new white student, sent to O-W by her mom in an effort to combat segregation. Star football player Kordel prepares for the big Friday night game. Can a win help Kordel earn a college scholarship and get Dr. Peters’ ambitions back on track?
American High School: The World Is Not Black
Premieres Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 9/8c
Handsome basketball team captain Rendull has the world at his feet, but his personal life throws his plans for the future into disarray. Vernon moves out of his home and is sleeping on his best friend Breezy's floor. Meanwhile, star student Jalena finds out whether she’s been accepted into her dream college. Aubrai and Kordel go on a date. Kordel's aspirations of leaving Orangeburg — and experiencing a more ethnically diverse America — are tantalizingly within his grasp. Mykenzie's birthday party turns into a fiasco.
American High School: All Hands on Deck
Premieres Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 9/8c
With no sign of a college scholarship, Rendull struggles to face up to his responsibilities, including the upcoming birth of his daughter, Harmoni. Can some tough love from his mom help in time for the birth? Meanwhile, Mykenzie gets into a serious fight at school. This prompts a meeting between black students from O-W and white students from the local prep school. Seniors plan for their “Vintage Hollywood” prom, and school principal Peters is driven to the breaking point — not by students — but their parents.
American High School: Walk Across That Stage
Premieres Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 9/8c
O-W is still reeling from Dr. Peters’ news. With just a few weeks to go until graduation, a number of seniors — including Vernon — are at risk of failing. Following the birth of his daughter, Rendull is adjusting to fatherhood, but a mistake puts his chances of attending graduation in jeopardy. Star student Jalena struggles to find college funding, and has the responsibility of writing the seniors’ graduation ceremony speech. As O-W closes for another year, the class of 2016 walks across the stage and into their new lives.