HOUSTON—Justice Hoyle is a student at the YES Prep School's Gulfton campus. The ninth grader said she escaped the dangers of her old public school in Southwest Houston where not much was expected of her and she feared being shot.
"You had a choice: You can not go to school [or] you can go to school; You can not go to class [or] you can go to class," Hoyle said. "It was all up to you."
Students like Hoyle are a focus of the new documentary Waiting for Superman. It is directed by David Guggenheim who was behind An Inconvenient Truth. The buzz surrounding the film promises it will do for education what Al Gore's project did for the environment.
Charter schools like Houston's YES Prep are spotlighted in the film as the answer to many of the educational system's problems. The eight-campus Houston program randomly admits students in a lottery system. Potential students do not take an admissions test or have to go through a behavioral background check.
The school said its waiting list is as large as its overall current enrollment. That is due in part to a high graduation and college admittance rates for students. The school has received lots of attention in its 15 year run. Most recently it received a $1 million donation from Oprah's "Angel" giveaway.
YES Prep classes are more rigorous than average with longer school days and more time at school for students. Teachers are expected to be available late into the evening.
"The requirements of a teacher [are] very different," sixth grade teacher Ashleigh Fritz said. "I know at YES, I have a cell phone and my students can call me up until 9 p.m. every night."
Meanwhile Waiting for Superman takes a very hard line against public schools. Critics say the film is written to play on audience emotions and is not based in reality with its attacks on the public system.
"It doesn't do anything for public schools by basically saying none of them are good and the whole world should go to charter schools," said Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon. "I think ultimately it will damage the charter schools by creating a rivalry where there should be a partnership."
As for students like Hoyle, she's not interested in the debate. She said she is just thankful she received what she considers a life-changing opportunity.
"It pushes me to limits I don't even want to go to. But when I realize I can achieve them, I [say to myself], 'I never thought I could do it,'" she said.
Hoyle is already looking at the University of Texas in Austin or Penn State as potential college choices.
Waiting for Superman opens Friday in Houston. It is just the beginning of a wave of documentaries looking at the American education system.