Next phase of American Graduate station grants to emphasize early education

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Ninth-grade students from Gateway STEM High School in St. Louis celebrate the prospect of graduating in three years during a recent visit to the local Nine Network as part of American Graduate program. (Photo: Jason Winkeler Photography)

Ninth-grade students from Gateway STEM High School in St. Louis celebrate the prospect of graduating in three years during a recent visit to the local Nine Network as part of the American Graduate program. (Photo: Jason Winkeler Photography)

American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, CPB’s dropout prevention initiative, has awarded another $6.2 million in grants to 33 stations, this time supporting students from the beginning of their academic careers.

The funding, announced Aug. 27, targets communities where the high school graduation rate is especially low among students of diverse races, ethnicities, incomes and disabilities, and where students struggle with limited English skills.

Under the new grants, stations will work toward developing long-term solutions that begin with early education.

“When we started this work, much of the initial focus was on middle- and high-school students,” said Jack Galmiche, president of Nine Network in St. Louis, American Graduate executive producer. “What we and other stations learned from our community partners is the challenge of graduation extends well beyond those years. We need to see how we can impact kids’ lives earlier — even in preschool.”

In addition to the CPB grants, 20 stations will receive a total of $200,000 from Newman’s Own Foundation, the late actor Paul Newman’s charity, to bolster outreach for American Graduate–related donations. CPB also unveiled plans for the initiative’s third national telethon, American Graduate Day, produced by New York’s WNET.

The grant renewals extend the education initiative that CPB launched in 2011 with an initial $4.4 million grant round. Those grants funded activities at 20 hub stations to raise awareness of the dropout problem. This February, CPB ramped up its investment in a partnership with PBS, with each contributing $10 million over two years to a fund that lays a foundation for early education content and tools aimed at preparing preschool and school-age children to stay on track to graduate.

“Education is at the core of public media’s mission,” said CPB President Pat Harrison, adding that more than 1,000 organizations are partnering with stations in American Graduate work nationwide. “We are proud of public media’s content and on the ground engagement that has raised awareness to achieve 80 percent graduation rates nationally and helped America see the potential in every student.”

Growing the initiative

The two-year CPB grants, ranging from $100,000 to $200,000, will support educational support work including outreach activities and production of local content and classroom resources.

Six stations are first-time recipients of American Graduate funding: KUEN, Salt Lake City; Kentucky Educational Television, Lexington; WVIZ, Cleveland; KLRU, Austin, Texas; KAET, Phoenix; and WUCF, Orlando, Fla.

KUEN, an instructional TV channel operated by the Utah Education Network, has been involved in dropout prevention work for the past year “independent of any direct funding from CPB,” said Stephanie Aaronson, CPB’s v.p. of education and community engagement. “They are a great example of what we have hoped American Graduate to become throughout the system — that the tools, resources, content and successes would move all stations, funded or not, to take the model and make it a central part of their operations, strategy, and community engagement efforts.”

With its CPB grant, KUEN’s work will include development of a mobile app that helps students estimate education costs, and an online course for school counselors and academic advisers.

Station grantees that will continue or expand their ongoing American Graduate projects are Alabama Public Television; PBS SoCal, Orange County, Calif.; Colorado Public Television, Denver; WHUT, Washington, D.C.; WFSU, Tallahassee, Fla.; WTTW, Chicago; Louisiana Public Broadcasting; Maryland Public Television; Detroit Public Television; Mississippi Public Broadcasting; New Mexico PBS; KNPB, Reno, Nev.; Vegas PBS; WSKG, Binghamton, N.Y.; WXXI, Rochester, N.Y.; CET, Cincinnati; WHYY, Philadelphia; South Carolina ETV; Nashville Public Television; WCTE, Cookeville, Tenn.; WHRO, Norfolk, Va.; WFYI, Indianapolis; WGBY, Springfield, Mass.; Twin Cities Public Television, St. Paul, Minn.; Public Broadcasting Atlanta; WNET, New York; and KBTC, Tacoma, Wash.

Grants from the Newman’s Own Foundation support 20 of those stations that are cultivating local financial support for their American Graduate work.

“Keep the drumbeat going”

Since its inception, American Graduate “has been consistently evolving,” Galmiche said. “What we have learned includes the importance of identifying key outcomes, aligning stations’ efforts to those core outcomes and utilizing evaluation to assess the impact of our efforts.”

Desiree Coleman stands to ask a question during a September 2013 American Graduate Town Hall sponsored by Nine Networks. The St. Louis station is executive producer for the national dropout prevention initiative. (Photo: Jason Winkeler)

Desiree Coleman stands to ask a question during a September 2013 American Graduate Town Hall sponsored by Nine Network. The St. Louis station is executive producer for the national dropout prevention initiative. (Photo: Jason Winkeler)

For instance, hearing from community partners that the project should assist younger students helped the initiative to unfurl into a “broader umbrella,” he said. Now AmGrad will encompass public media’s education and content assets — such as Ready To Learn, PBS Kids, PBS Learning Media and the national program schedule — and link those directly to local education priorities for young learners. As executive producer for the initiative, Nine Network’s role “is to help stations best align these assets for impact,” Galmiche said.

Local content to be produced by AmGrad stations includes interstitials, web content, longer-form specials, town halls and public affairs programs. “Anything that works together to keep the drumbeat going around improving things for young people, and connecting with local education priorities,” Galmiche said.

One new promotional tactic for building awareness of the initiative’s next two years is the “American Graduate Champions” strategy. Galmiche described it as a campaign that will honor individuals who are helping kids graduate, and also inspire others to do the same. “We met many of these individuals in the first phase of our work and this next phase we will elevate these stories in our communities,” he said.

Champions could be parents, teachers, students, early childhood advocates, education leaders, or activists in business or philanthropy. Stations can seek nominations of local champions online, or identify individuals through their community work. Their stories will be promoted on the air and online.

That strategy is the latest content thread in the massive initiative. Nationally, over the past three years, American Graduate has backed more than 40 hours of education-related content on PBS through series including POV, Independent Lens, Frontline and PBS NewsHour, according to CPB. More than 80 public radio and TV stations in 30 states have produced 1,700 hours of local content, including public affairs reporting and Teacher Town Halls.

Radio coverage tied to American Graduate continues through $1.18 million in grants awarded to nine stations in March to strengthen their education reporting. That grant round backed several full-time education reporters who cover local issues as well as create content for American Graduate.

Star power

WNET in New York will produce, broadcast and stream its third national American Graduate Day live from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time Sept. 27. The marathon aims to inspire viewers to connect with local stations and community organizations to help young people graduate.

Nearly 100 public TV stations aired the special last year, reaching some 1 million television households, according to WNET.

Hosting from the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center will be Wes Moore, best-selling author and U.S. Army veteran.

Celebrity interviews lined up for the broadcast include singer Tony Bennett and his wife Susan Benedetto on the importance of the arts; former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife Alma talking about their education advocacy organization, America’s Promise Alliance; NBC News Anchor Brian Williams and his family discussing their two-decade support of Horizons National, an educational enrichment program for low-income students; and athletes CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees and Olympic track gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee speaking for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Producers have also tapped several moderators for the broadcast marathon, including Juju Chang, co-anchor of Nightline on ABC; NBC News Education Correspondent Rehema Ellis; Yahoo! News anchor Bianna Golodryga; and Hari Sreenivasan, anchor of PBS NewsHour Weekend.

Early education, a new focus for the next two-year phase of American Graduate, is among several topics to be covered during the telethon; others include special needs, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) programs and college and career readiness. Producers will also highlight “Stories of Champions,” a content thread designed to recognize people who are successfully helping students stay on track to graduate while potentially inspiring others to take up the cause.

The seven-hour program “gives us the chance to highlight the remarkable individuals, mentors and organizations at the heart of every community and to present their inspiring stories — which make a compelling case for investing in the future of America’s children,” said WNET President Neal Shapiro in an Aug. 27 announcement.

To recruit volunteers, show talent will be encouraging viewers to send text messages or visit to learn how to help in their hometowns. Viewers will also be invited to participate on Facebook and via Twitter using the #AmGrad hashtag.

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