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  • Principal Edward Tom envisions his school as a safe haven where kids can focus on their education.

    Principal Edward Tom envisions his school as a safe haven where kids can focus on their education.

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  • Principal Tom deliberates while standing in the school hallway

    Principal Tom deliberates while standing in the school hallway

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  • Sharifea strikes a defiant pose standing outside of school

    Sharifea strikes a defiant pose standing outside of school

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  • Students and staff celebrate spring weather in school courtyard

    Students and staff celebrate spring weather in school courtyard

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  • Principal Tom tutors Sharifea in mathematics

    Principal Tom tutors Sharifea in mathematics

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  • Sharifea and her mother in Principal Tom’s office

    Sharifea and her mother in Principal Tom’s office

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  • Principal Tom challenges Sharifea to commit to studies

    Principal Tom challenges Sharifea to commit to studies

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  • Principal Tom urges students to commit to being scholars

    Principal Tom urges students to commit to being scholars

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The Film

At the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics (BCSM), principal Edward Tom stands outside on the school’s very first day, greeting each arriving student with a handshake and hug. A rookie principal who traded his financially lucrative career as a Saks Fifth Avenue executive for the less glamorous job as a public high school math teacher, Tom is committed to improving the lives of low-income kids of color.

Whatever it Takes chronicles the struggles and triumphs of this innovative public high school. While the learning environment is a safe haven compared to many of the students’ former schools, principal Tom’s ideals run up against reality midway through the school year. More than half of his students are failing, detention hall is overflowing, and gang members start recruiting at the school. Even some teachers harbor doubts, exhausted from 16-hour workdays and disillusioned with Tom’s inconsistent discipline policy.

Fourteen-year-old Sharifea is a talented ninth-grade girl with big dreams, but even bigger obstacles. She dreams of attending medical school and becoming a pediatrician, but with her formerly crack-addicted mother now sick with hepatitis, Sharifea is forced to care for her two younger siblings, leaving little time or energy to focus on her schoolwork. Knowing that Sharifea requires much more than daily tutoring, principal Tom discovers a three-year summer enrichment program sponsored by Dartmouth College, which could radically change the direction of her life. While Sharifea recognizes Dartmouth as her big chance, her poor grades threaten to disqualify her from participation.

Whatever it Takes is a deeply emotional story of dedicated teachers and cutting-edge ideas, united in their vision to restore hope to a community.

The Filmmaker

  1. Christopher WongDirector