Public Television Takes Role in Curbing Dropout Rates

More than 100 public television stations reaching two-thirds of the nation’s viewers turned over their air on Saturday to an unusual seven-hour telethon broadcast live from WNET-TV’s Lincoln Center studio in New York.

A parade of media stars, including NBC’s Brian Williams, CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, CBS’s Rebecca Jarvis and public media’s Maria Hinojosa and Ray Suarez, exhorted viewers to “call the number on your screen,” but they were not seeking membership pledges. Instead, they asked viewers to sign up to be “American Graduate Day Champions,” and connect with community organizations working on the nation’s high school dropout crisis.

The telethon was part of the fast-growing American Graduate initiative, seeded in the last year with about $5 million in grants to public television stations by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

“Education is probably one of the hottest issues facing the country,” said Neal Shapiro, president and chief executive of WNET, which assembled the telethon in just four months. “I think people didn’t realize how huge the problem is, or how much success there could be and how local groups are actually making a difference.”

While graduation rates have inched up in recent years, nearly 25 percent of students over all drop out.

CPB, whose partners include the America’s Promise Alliance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, has channeled an additional $10 million into program grants. The grants are for televised teacher town hall meetings, programs from Tavis Smiley and the Independent Television Service, and a coming four-hour PBS documentary, “DC Met: Life Inside School Reform,” from the National Black Programming Consortium, among other programs.

Shows this week include a “Frontline” hour, a five-part “PBS NewsHour” report by Mr. Suarez and a public radio documentary. (Coincidentally, NBC News is broadcasting its “Education Nation” reports this week.) But stations have embraced American Graduate beyond the shows; many have become deeply involved with the broad swath of local community organizations tackling issues including abuse and abandonment, and teacher quality.

In St. Louis, the Nine Network of Public Media is coordinating 51 local partners, which have divided into groups addressing such topics as early intervention, and parent engagement strategies, said Jack Galmiche, Nine Network’s president and chief executive. He characterized Nine Network’s role as helping disparate community organizations align their work more effectively.

“Being in this community for 50 years, being a trusted institution, when we ask these groups to come together they show up and they show up with the best intentions,” Mr. Galmiche said.

Other stations are developing curriculums for schools and production training programs for at-risk youth.

While public television stations have long been involved in early childhood education through their preschool shows, the American Graduate work is far afield from the stations simply being an outlet for “Sesame Street,” or the prime-time hit “Downton Abbey.”

“This is a next-generation relationship with our community,” said Rich Homberg, president and general manager of Detroit Public Television.

Mr. Galmiche called it a return to public broadcasting’s original mission. “Being a provider of education and educational resources and civil discourse were the principles we were founded on in 1954,” he said. “Our value to this community is, simply, how do we improve community life?”

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John Kania, a managing director of nonprofit consultant FSG, which has worked with the stations, said shrinking revenues helped spur the new thinking.

Read more . . .

via The New York Times – Elizabeth Jensen
 

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