Another ‘180 Days’ brings more compelling stories

Rashon-Pierre Brown-fence credit Clevis HarrisonJacquie Jones won a 2013 Peabody Award for 180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School that premiered on PBS. This time, the co-director, producer and executive producer tackles the educational challenges in a rural South Carolina town.

“It’s in the same style, but a very different story” from the first 180 Days, explained Jones in a MSR phone interview. 180 Days: Hartsville premieres nationally March 17 on PBS. TPT 2 will present it March 18, at 11 pm, and re-run it at 5 am, March 19. It will also air March 25, 11 pm and 5 am on March 26.

“The idea of 180 Days was to look at different communities across the country, and how those communities are dealing with educational reform,” continued Jones. The first film focused on a Washington, D.C. high school “with a high-risk population of high school students. 180 Days: Hartsville is looking at a small rural community that is dealing with a lot of these same kinds of shifts but in a very different way,” Jones explained.

Hartsville, South Carolina, a town with a population of 7,764 in a state that ranks 45th in the country in education, “is in the middle of nowhere,” she pointed out. “It’s like two hours from everywhere.” The town’s median income is less than $30,000 per year. “The American dream is simply unaffordable to nearly 80 percent of residents in Hartsville,” said the film’s press release.

As with the first documentary, viewers again will see and hear teachers, school leaders, community folk, parents and students tell their stories. The film looks at two of the town’s six elementary schools: one low-performing elementary school and the other, which is “rapidly improving.”

“I think one of the biggest challenges or unique challenges is that those kinds of communities have is that they are isolated. They don’t have the same access or the same kind of resources that we have in cities, so kids that are in small communities, rural communities, small towns — especially if they are growing up in poverty — they don’t know people who have been to college or have access to the kinds of networks that support low-income kids when they are reaching beyond the experience of their family.”

See the trailer for 180 Days: Hartsville below:

Like the first 180 Days, the Hartsville documentary features several compelling characters as well, said Jones. Characters like Monay Parran, who dropped out of high school and now works two minimum-wage jobs in two different cities. “She’s a young mom with three sons — she has high aspirations for her sons. As you get to know her during the course of the [film’s] two hours, you really see just how hard-working she is and how aspirational she is for her kids.”

Parran’s story “really drives home a lot of what we are talking about these days when we are talking about a higher minimum wage or health care,” said Jones, who added that the young mom will make “a big change in her life” by the end of the film. “I found her story particularly inspiring.”

Jones also reported “some good updates” on some of the participants in the first film. “We had one of the students in the film accept the [Peabody] award for us. He is now in college. Two of the girls are still in college. Tanisha [Williams Minor] is now the principal of another school in New Jersey, an all-girls school,” she said.

Until last year, Jones was the National Black Programming Consortium executive director, but film-making is her real passion. She says she wants to continue to bring awareness of “the future of the most vulnerable kids in our society, on how public school systems are becoming majority low-income, and how the gap between affluent kids and poor kids is becoming wider and wider.”

“This is something I feel very passionately about, and even more so after spending a year in [Hartsville],” she concluded.

Related article: 180 Days: A Year inside an American High School By Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to