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HBO program 'Wyatt Cenac's Problem Areas' to feature Rainier Beach High School

A screenshot from the trailer of the Rainier Beach episode of "Wyatt Cenac's Problem Areas."
A screenshot from the trailer of the Rainier Beach episode of "Wyatt Cenac's Problem Areas."

Students at Seattle's Rainier Beach High School will be featured on national television Friday evening, as part of an episode of HBO's show "Wyatt Cenac's Problem Areas."

Cenac is a comedian who used to be on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." This season, his HBO program is focusing on education, examining everything from teacher strikes to school safety.

Colin Pierce is coordinator of Rainier Beach High School’s International Baccalaureate program. Pierce said Cenac approached the school because he heard about its turnaround in recent years, which was featured in a KNKX documentary in 2015. Rainier Beach faced possible closure about a decade ago because of dwindling enrollment, but has attracted more students since adding the IB program and increasing its graduation rate.

Pierce has had to fight for financial support for the IB program and said he thinks the show will focus on school funding disparities.

“I know that one of the things they’re looking at is the way that in a city that has some of the highest income-earning individuals and some of the most wealthy corporations in the world that we’re still seeing levels of inequality within our public schools,” Pierce said.

For example, Pierce said the school doesn’t have access to the same kind of financial support from a parent-teacher-student association that schools in more affluent parts of the city do. He said the whole school will watch the episode on Monday. 

Students, parents and educators staged a walk-in at the school earlier this week, to protest cuts in teaching staff for the coming school year. Seattle Public Schools spokesman Tim Robinson said in an email that the school is losing two positions. One position is being eliminated because the school will receive less in state funds for its IB program, and the other reduction is due to a projected drop in enrollment.

Pierce said the school faces the elimination of a couple more positions, in addition to those two, due to a loss of grant funding.