Education

‘Night School’ Documentary Looks at Adults Seeking an Elusive H.S. Diploma

By Mark Walsh — June 09, 2017 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Adult education programs, including programs for high school dropouts to earn a GED or diploma, are a relatively little-discussed part of the education landscape. But many K-12 districts operate such programs, and their classrooms are filled with students who have not given up hope.

Director Andrew Cohn captures this part of the education world movingly with his “Night School,” an 85-minute documentary showing people whose lives have been knocked off track, but who still hold hopes of getting an elusive high school diploma. The film debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016, but opens a limited theatrical release on Friday at the IFC Center in New York City.

Cohn and his crew spent the better part of a year in Indianapolis to follow three adults who attend the Excel Center, a tuition-free program for dropouts operated by Goodwill Education Initiatives, part of Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana.

Greg, in his 30s or 40s, says he dropped out of high school to “hang out” and sell drugs. He now has a young daughter and a rap sheet that includes driving without ever having had a license and other low-level crimes. He has hopes both for a diploma through the program and the expungement of his criminal record by a court, so he can get a decent job.

“I don’t want a job,” he says. “I need a career. I’m too old to just be working a job.”

Greg’s brother is the victim of a street shooting, which brings out some vengeful instincts in Greg. The brother survives and urges Greg not to pursue any retaliation and to stick to his studies.

Melissa is in her early 50s, and her years in the inner city have taken a toll on her body but not her spirit. She works at a Goodwill store She meets a new love interest on the municipal bus and is soon bowling with him. Melissa has test anxiety and finds the Algebra I course she needs to pass particularly challenging.

The third subject is Shynika, a homeless 26-year-old who works at an Arby’s and hopes to earn her high school diploma to she can become a nurse. She encounters a union organizer with the Fight for 15 movement for raising the minimum wage and after giving it some thought, throws herself into that fight. (She wonders whether the reduction of her hours and assignment of inconvenient shifts at Arby’s is related to her activism.)

Cohn, the director, has told interviewers that he was inspired to do the documentary by a PBS NewsHour segment a few years ago about a 51-year-old day laborer who was going back to high school.

Cohn has said he followed more than the three subjects who ended up in the film, but only Greg, Melissa, and Shynika were 100 percent committed to being part of the film. The director moved to what he described as a very dangerous part of Indianapolis where the school is located for the better part of the year, and he was once robbed at gunpoint in his temporary home.

The film is unnarrated, and while it contains a few statistics and keen observations from some of the educators in the program, it is mostly about the daily struggle of three adults with a lot of fragility in their lives.

And like other education documentaries of this type, there is drama at the end when it comes time to reveal which of the three, if any, have passed their courses and the end-of-course assessment required by the state. I won’t reveal those outcomes here. But if you want some inspiration that it’s never too late for a formal education, “Night School” is the place to go.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP