August 20th, 2012
Written by: Dru Sefton
The massive American Graduate project is all about potential — the potential of students who stay in school to graduate, as well as the potential of public broadcasting stations to serve as community conveners working to identify and tackle problems.
The multiplatform five-year initiative, seeded with $15 million from CPB, has expanded in its first year to encompass 600 partners working with 25 hub stations serving markets with some of the worst graduation rates in the country. An additional 41 stations received National Center for Media Engagement community-engagement grants for outreach or productions customized to the education needs in their communities.
Twelve Teacher Town Hall meetings convened by local stations have drawn more than 1,200 educators to discussions of their challenges in the classroom. And with next month’s American Graduate Day, participating pubcasters will bring the discussion to a much wider audience through a seven-hour telethon produced by New York’s WNET.
The Sept. 22 broadcast marathon, offered to stations nationwide, will highlight organizations battling the issue and recruit volunteers to join the cause as reading mentors or tutors by calling a centralized toll-free number. The telethon kicks off a week of related program specials airing on public television and radio stations nationally.
The CPB-backed efforts are all focused on a persistent national problem: One in four students doesn’t finish high school — that’s more than 1 million dropouts per year. The numbers are even more acute for African-American and Hispanic students, whose graduation rates are below 65 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
CPB has high-profile national partners in the fight, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; America’s Promise Alliance, founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell; and Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center.
The initiative has also prompted many collaborative projects within the system. Frontline is working with three Local Journalism Centers to produce coverage of regional educational issues. The PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs are partnering with stations to get local kids involved in telling their stories. The Independent Television Service is spearheading American Graduate Latino, which will produce Spanish- and English-language versions of the core American Graduate content, as well as two documentaries in both languages.
On the radio side, the Public Radio Exchange and NCME are curating a playlist of education-related pieces; PRX has also contracted with Connecticut Public Radio to produce an hourlong special featuring former NPR correspondent Andrea Seabrook as host. It airs Sept. 22, the same day as WNET’s telethon.
And American Graduate seeded StoryCorpsU, a yearlong high-school curriculum based on the popular oral-history project. It’s being tested now in urban classrooms in St. Louis, New York City and Washington, D.C.
American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen reaches deeply into the core of public broadcasting’s mission to produce content and educational services that engage and empower citizens to identify problems in their communities and come together to solve them.
“It’s heartening to have organizations come to us saying, ‘We hear you’re doing this, can we get on board?’” said Lee Solonche, director of educational media services at Vegas PBS. “They are knocking on our door to get in on this.”