The first day of school is almost here, and what better way to spend your last few days of summer vacation than by watching some of POV’s best documentaries? Over the last 30 years, POV has featured many stories about the people who navigate educational systems all over the world. Here are 10 documentaries about classrooms—conventional and unconventional—and the students, educators and parents fighting to make them as effective as possible.

You can also bring these films to your communities with the POV Community Network. Explore more than 100 titles that are available for free for community organizations, librarians, teachers, PBS stations and engaged individuals who wish to screen these films to the public. Films also come with educational materials to further engage audiences with the topics explored in our documentaries.

Raising Bertie by Margaret Byrne
Filmmaker Margaret Byrne arrived in rural Bertie County, North Carolina hoping to document The Hive, an alternative high school for at-risk youth. When the district shut down The Hive due to budget constraints, Byrne turned her lens on three African-American teenage boys left in the educational and institutional vacuum of its absence. Over the next six years, Raising Bertie follows them into young adulthood and through the gauntlet of graduating from high school in an educational system ill-equipped to address the effects of economic inequality and institutionalized racism. A co-presentation with the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC).
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What Tomorrow Brings by Beth Murphy
Razia Jan founded the first-ever girls’ school in her small Afghan village in 2009 amidst enormous pressure from the community and threats from the Taliban. Filmmaker Beth Murphy followed Jan’s school and its students and teachers through the inaugural graduation in 2015. What Tomorrow Brings traces the incremental and enormous changes that occur over those seven years, both within the community and within the lives of individual girls given educational access for the first time. A co-production of ITVS.
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All the Difference by Tod Lending, Joy Thomas Moore and Wes Moore
Statistics suggest that Robert and Krishaun, two African-American teenage boys from the South Side of Chicago, will never graduate from high school. All the Difference documents their overwhelming dedication to achieving a different outcome—college graduation—and the extraordinary confluence of personal focus, structural support and mentorship it takes to get there. A co-production of American Documentary | POV. Part of American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
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Neuland by Anna Thommen
Neuland (“New Territory”) tells a global story of economic instability and political unrest from inside a single Swiss classroom: Mr. Zingg’s integration class of migrants from every corner of the Earth. During their time in his class, Mr. Zingg’s students struggle to learn an unfamiliar language and meet academic expectations while dealing with new responsibilities and past traumas.
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American Promise by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson
To create this film of unprecedented scope and intimacy, middle-class African-American parents Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson documented their son Idris and his best friend Seun as they navigated one of New York City’s most exclusive private schools. Over the next 13 years, the boys’ paths diverged, reflecting their distinct academic and social needs, as well as complicated matters of educational access, social class and the black male achievement gap. A co-production of Rada Film Group, ITVS and POV’s Diverse Voices Project, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Part of American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, made possible by CPB. Produced in association with American Documentary | POV. A co-presentation with the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC).
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Best Kept Secret by Samantha Buck
John F. Kennedy High School, “Newark’s best kept secret,” is home to teacher Janet Mino, whose severely autistic students are at risk of aging out of the educational system without the necessary resources to live independently. For minority students with special needs, resources are sorely lacking; racing against the clock, Mino tries to help each student secure a plan for the future before they’re forced to leave the support network JFK provides.
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The Principal Story by Tod Lending and David Mrazek
What makes a good principal? Both Tresa Dunbar, in her second year at Nash Elementary, and Kerry Purcell, in her sixth year at Harvard Park Elementary, lead public schools with predominantly low-income student populations. The Principal Story follows Dunbar and Purcell through one very busy school year, documenting the long-term strategy and daily struggle of stretching limited resources to meet the needs of every student.
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Teaching Fatherhood by Jessica Sherry
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a community in which two-thirds of African-American children are raised by single parents, Delvyn Crawford teaches men how to be attentive, sensitive and present parents. His unconventional classroom gives fathers the tools they need to raise well-adjusted kids, as well as a comfortable environment to discuss their shared experiences.
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A High School Behind Bars by Annelise Wunderlich and Richard O’Connell
Five Keys Charter School is not the kind of American high school that typically features onscreen. Based in San Francisco County Jail, Five Keys gives inmates the opportunity to work toward diplomas and try to break through cycles of poverty and incarceration.
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The Education of Shelby Knox by Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt
Shelby Knox was a 15-year-old self-described “good Southern Baptist girl” when she discovered that her hometown, Lubbock, Texas, had some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted illness in the nation. Frustrated by her school’s abstinence-only program, Knox became an advocate for comprehensive sex education, stepping right into the middle of a long-standing cultural, political and ethical fight over the purpose of public schools.
Lesson Plan | Discussion Guide | Reading List

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POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.