One of the Most Dangerous Schools in America

Diane Sawyer looks at the courage and struggle to educate students under dangerous circumstances.
5:59 | 05/30/13

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Transcript for One of the Most Dangerous Schools in America
And now, to our latest in our "hidden america" series, looking in depth at people and places often overlooked in the headlines. Six months ago, we heard about strawberry mansion high school inside philadelphia. For five straight years, it has been considered one of the most dangerous schools in this country. Located in a neighborhood where 40% of the families live in poverty. The city's highest number of homicides and assaults. So we wanted to know, who are the 435 students trying to get an education there? The kind of education so many of us take for granted. So six months ago, we took our cameras into strawberry mansion, to look at their day, when that school bell rings and the security guards offer a prayer of protection. It is morning at strawberry mansion high school. We must save the children. So mas coming to learn. This school year there have been 39 serious incidents like the one we filmed. On one day 40. On another day, protecting each other and the principal caught in the middle. Incidents including attacking teachers and starting fires. Somebody thought it was cute to start a fire. Safety is not a joke. The principal was the assistant principal of the district before coming to strawberry mansion this year. I said to myself, because i love these students dearly, i will just volunteer to be the principal. In this school, security guards watch for razor blades in tin foil, knives, and vaseline used to make things slippery during a fight. Security cameras everywhere. How many cameras? 94. And we need more. Trying to protect kids like a small, quiet ninth grader like malaysia. She says she just want to make her dad proud. But one day after school, she's punched in the face by another girl. You're busted up. It's like score still. She stels me she's bullied a lot. Are you scared of fighting? Cause I'm little. Little like rez ak. How do you protect yourself at school? I use my words. I don't try to be big. I don't try to be anything. I just be myself. He's in the ninth grade and tries to show up at school every day, even though he shoulders a lot of responsibility at home for his other mothers and sisters. His clothes are in those plastic bags. His pride, the junior military uniform he lays out on the chair. What are your favorite subjects? Chemistry. I like learning about the periodic table. Back at strawberry mansion, it's time for lunch just before noon. This is the most scary time of the day. Because I know that they outnumber me. I don't know if I have enough manpower to bring them back. As we wa another fight breaks out. One girl has spit on the other. They rush in to break it up. She restores order. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Calm down, take a deep breath. During the mayhem, one of the students steps in to protect me. We don't want nobody hit diane. Y'all, back up! Like other kids around this country, students at strawberry mansion want a music program, but they have no teacher. They try to do it for themselves. ♪ when it comes time for parent-teacher conference day -- imjust quickly, how many parents have you had come in the last two days. These are the first parents that I saw so far. Out of his 70 students, only one parent shows up. It's malaysia's dad. He knows that the bullying and chaos at the school distract her, but her grades are slipping and he pleads with her to remember her future. Look at the mistake I made with my life. I don't want the same thing for you. He works in construction and said he wants her to have more. I got to make money with my hands. I want you to make it with your brain. By spring she's reduced serious incidents by half and doubled the number of seniors accepted into college. But some of those seniors tell her they do not have a few hundred dollars for a deposit fee to secure a spot. For a spmoment, the tough principal is in tears. A hymn of hope. The year almost over, another day ends at strawberry mansion. The bell about to ring. I want you to be careful going home today, young people. And you all have to remember that education is the only way. It is your only ticket. And remember, if nobody told you they loved you today, you remember I do. I look forward to seeing you in school, on time, on monday. Have a great day, when the bell sounds. And if you're interested in helping out, go to abcnews.Com. I hope you'll join me tonight for so much more. A special edition of "nightline." You'll hear from some of the kids who have a history of getting into fights, and you'll also meet some of the teachers, the nurse, who head into this school every day to try to help. And also a superintendent who es to make strawberry mansion stronger next year.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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