By Joe Shearer
The Film Yap

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As an education documentary, “Facing Forward” is a solid, engaging look at an oddity in the American educational system.

The E Prep school is a super-strict inner-city prep school in Cleveland, which takes drastic steps to protect students. Talking out of turn? Detention. Talking at lunchtime? Detention. Holding your books in the wrong hand? Detention, or you at least get yelled at.

E Prep is a boot camp for the problem students, the type of inner city school that public schools wish they could be but don’t have the resources or the time. But it’s not just the kids who have hard rules. The teachers must follow guidelines as well, as evidenced by one scene where a teacher is scolded after a fight between two students for not recognizing the warning signs and stepping in.

“Forward” primarily follows Tyree, a 7th grader from a single-parent household, albeit it a relatively stable one. He’s an engaging boy but an undisciplined; he has behavior problems and low grades but begins to fit into E Prep’s system and makes steady improvement. We meet his mother, who cares for her kids but is similarly brash and impulsive. One day, fed up with the day-to-day minutiae, she yanks her kids and enrolls them in public school.

Tyree complains early in the film about his strict school, but gets a quick look at the other side. We hear him placing desperate calls to teachers and school administrators, describing rats in the school and uncontrollable students. And he wants to return to E Prep.

He eventually does, and soon the teachers begin to notice warning signs that maybe there’s more going on at home than they originally thought.

That represents a bit of a turn in the film, where “Forward” stops being just about a somewhat controversial school and more a personal film about a boy having problems at home. His teachers and administrators fret over him, seeing his potential and lamenting the long, hard work they put in with him that seemingly will be for naught if his home life doesn’t improve.

There are a few stray threads in the film that don’t get wrapped up. In one segment, we follow an administrator who sort of disappears late in the film, and we don’t get more than a cursory personal look at others — like the school’s principal who dominates much of the film, but at whose personal life we never get a good look.

But “Facing Forward” is a nice snapshot of the plight of the teachers who fight an overwhelming battle every day and a no-nonsense look at how education — in the hands of the right people and with the right resources and the right attitude — can produce success.