Whatever It Takes
At first, Whatever It Takes looks like the opening of a murder-mystery TV show, as a man gets ready for work. But it isn’t—it’s really Edward Tom, a new principal getting ready for the first day of school at a school in the South Bronx, New York. Named for the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, the high school is part of the state’s new education reforms: smaller schools to assist high risk students.
The principal and teachers alike pay attention to all 108 kids, hoping to encourage them to succeed. The film covers the 2005-2006 academic year. We get to see how students live at home, at school, and bits of the harsh reality on the street (although it doesn’t dip beyond the surface there). Many of the students are far below their grade level when they enter class in September. Staff, students, and parents struggle to deal with many obstacles, though some parents just don’t care. Until this school year, the students’ environment was often one of apathy; now they are expected to become assertive and take charge of their goals and future.
The most difficult challenge the students face is generational poverty. In order to combat it, Tom must convince students and their families that education is power, and that education means change. Previously, these students didn’t bother trying, and often, they were passed along to the next grade without doing the work. Realistically, it takes more than just one year to change a lifetime of bad habits, but Tom and his staff do not give up.
Students like Sharifea are inspirational; a bright student who is bogged down with helping her mother raise her siblings, she is overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed. Failing grades do not stop her from attempting to get beyond cyclical poverty and drug use. One student leaves school because of drug charges. Tom believes in the old saying that if one student fails, he fails. While it sounds cliché, it shows his determination.
It’s a stressful situation for all involved, but unlike the typical North American school, it isn’t the teachers pitted against the students. They are brought together to change things in a rough neighborhood. It may only be a start, but as long as one person cares, there’s hope for every student.