Each year 10,000 students apply for a few hundred available seats at Whitney M. Young Magnet School, one of currently eleven selective enrollment public high schools in Chicago.
For an entire year, filmmaker Kayla McCormick was given access to the school’s students, faculty, and staff for her feature documentary “SelectED,” which strives to give viewers a look at life inside the urban high school, the diversity of its students, and the implications of having such a limited amount of quality public education choices in a city so large.
Before watching the film, I wasn’t familiar with the concept of test-in public high schools.
It’s a given that all parents would want the best educational opportunities for their children and no child wants to go to a failing school or one where the threat of danger or gang violence exists. Yet, as I watched the film, I could not stop asking myself: How are selective admission schools fair? What does it say about our society when it labels a child’s potential for success based on how well they perform on a 7th grade standardized test? What about kids who don’t test well or have learning disabilities, do they not deserve as good an education in Chicago as those deemed “academically gifted”?
The only answer the film really provides is that more quality schools are needed, which of course everyone already knows.
While the film left me thinking that such a system is incredibly flawed, if not absurd, I did enjoy learning how the featured high school operates and getting to know a few of its students through their challenges and triumphs. Each of the teenagers in the film are delightful and mature young adults, and audiences are sure to find their individual stories compelling.
The film itself is also very well made.
It has the style and feeling of a documentary you might find on a television network like A&E, PBS, or OWN, which isn’t at all surprising since the director has an extensive television background and prior experience working on productions for all three networks.
When thinking about who will benefit most from seeing this documentary, the answer is obviously parents and students living in the Chicago area.
Educators throughout the U.S. and abroad will also find it fascinating to see how the school is run on a daily basis and to learn about its history, and the selective enrollment process, in general.
Given the notoriety of the Chicago Public School System and the fact that most Americans will likely have seen or read about one of the many teacher walkouts they’ve experienced in recent years, “SelectED” should also appeal to a national audience interested in the overall state of public education.
While the film is a showcase of an accomplished high school and a talented group of faculty, staff, and students, it’s also an interesting look at the quality of public schooling that all students in Chicago and elsewhere in the United States deserve and should have access to, not just those who receive only the best grades, never miss a day of class, or are able to achieve the highest test scores.
“SelectED” is distributed by FilmWorks Entertainment and is currently available for digital streaming on Amazon, iTunes, and Xfinity On Demand.