American High School

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
American High School TV Poster Image
Introspective docu examines race, poverty, and high school.

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Positive Messages

Themes include race and how it impacts people's perceptions of who is academically capable. Poverty, mentorship, and working hard for your dreams are also discussed. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Principal Peters is committed and empathetic, and places high expectations on students. Some students are more academically inclined than others. 


Fights between students happen (weapons used but not visible). Fears about student safety sometimes an issue. 


Dating, boyfriend issues. Sex occasionally (and subtly) addressed. 


Racial slurs, cursing muted. Occasional insults.  

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Risky behaviors discussed, including getting involved in drugs, etc.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that American High School is a documentary series that follows students at a predominantly black South Carolina high school. Racism, and how it impacts the way students feel about themselves, and the way others feel about their abilities, is discussed. It also addresses common high school-related themes like school violence (but no weapons or fighting shown), dating (and potential issues relating to pairing up), and other behaviors. Poverty, the role of sports in getting an education, and other issues are also examined. Racial slurs and cursing are muted. The importance of mentorship and working hard for your dreams are also themes. 

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What's the story?

AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL is a reality series that follows a group of seniors attending high school at Orangeville-Wilkinson High during their senior year. The South Carolina school, which has a 99 percent black student population, has a less than stellar reputation. But the new principal, Dr. Stephen G. Peters, is working hard to turn the institution around by focusing on student mentoring and improving academic achievement. Interviews with a select group of O-W seniors highlight their perceptions about what attending O-W is like, as well as how they are preparing for life after graduation. Viewers also get some insight into what some of these students' personal lives are like outside of the classroom. From top academic performers to athletes more interested in playing pro ball, the series offers an inside look into the day-to-day events at a public school in the Deep South. 

Is it any good?

This insightful docuseries offers an inside look into what life is like for black students in a public school system that's become increasingly segregated over time. It highlights many of the challenges that some of these students face, including living in a systemic cycle of poverty, a lack of emotional support, and coping with the underlying prejudice they must face every day. 

Watching these students experience rites of passage like taking national tests, worrying about college acceptances, dating, and attending prom is standard documentary fare. But some scenes feel more voyeuristic than others, especially when cameras record conversations between Principal Peters and struggling students. Nonetheless, American High School offers a compelling look at what life is like coming of age in a predominantly black public high school.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about high school and race. Why are some schools more segregated than others around the country? Does this impact the quality of education the students receive? What about the way students are perceived by others? 

  • How are black youth represented in the media? Are there generalizations used to define them? Do you think what is shown in American High School is typical of predominantly black high schools in America?

TV details

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