News Briefs: Tribune reports on Sandra Bland death investigation, Plus the rising cost of school supplies

New details emerged this week in the investigation into the death of Sandra Bland, who died a in Waller County jail last week. This weekend during PBS NewsHour, our partners at The Texas Tribune report on how lawmakers and residents of Prairie View are reacting to her death.

On July 10, a state trooper pulled over Bland for failing to signal during a lane change. She was taken into custody and three days later an officer found Bland dead, hanging in her jail cell. The Tribune’s Alana Rocha reports dash cam video, released Tuesday, raised many concerns about the officer’s conduct and the merits of Bland’s arrest. And now state lawmakers say the agencies involved will be transparent throughout the case, which is now being treated as a murder investigation.

“No one should jump to any conclusions. Wait for the investigations to be completed and then see what the facts have to say,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said.

Meanwhile, Rocha reports, Bland’s faith community, family, and friends are trying to keep the peace through prayer. But on Sunday, before a packed church crowd in Prairie View, prayer turned to frustration.

“In the county that is known for racial profiling and unjust behavior towards individuals of color, oh yes, I said it today, I want to go on the record,” Lenora Dabney of Prairie View Hope AME Church told the congregation. “They have made it known, but I have to pray for the community today, for hope and for healing.”

On Sunday during NewsHour, our story focuses on the rising cost of back-to-school supplies. Austin non-profit Manos de Cristo hosted its annual Back-to-School drive this week. During the drive the group hands out backpacks, school supplies and clothing to 2,000 low-income children, and many parents line up before sunrise to make sure they get what they need. Manos’ Education Coordinator Karen Green told us they estimate the total cost for each parent would be around $50 per child.

“It has been a trend where the children are asked to bring classroom school supplies,” Green said. “They share them once they get to school and those kids who do not bring them just feel kind of left out. [Parents] wouldn’t stand in line in the heat if they didn’t have a need.”

Austin ISD told us they rely on partner organizations, the business community, and non-profits to help cover the costs of supplies for families who cannot afford them. District officials told us AISD’s current deficit requires them to ask parents to outfit their children with supplies.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning policy research group, told us districts would love to provide supplies like folders and glue sticks for every child, but because state lawmakers haven’t provided enough school funding, districts are forced to push those costs on to parents.

“Texas saw very large school cuts in 2011, about 5.3 billion was cut from our school system,” Chandra Villanueva with CPPP said. “That money has not been fully restored [and] this issue of school supplies is just one example of how we’re not keeping pace with school funding and giving schools the resources that they need.”

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend at 6:30pm. Our Sunday story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. American Graduate is aimed at increasing awareness about factors that lead to dropout in Central Texas

Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

KLRU News Briefs: Black-Owned Businesses See Opportunity in Pflugerville, and Combating Summer Learning Loss

BRAIN DRAIN for web

In April, the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce capitalized on the “Greater Austin” part of its name and expanded operations to Pflugerville. The GABCC signed a deal with the Pflugerville Community Development Corporation to offer services and programs to black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs.

According to the PCDC, Pflugerville ranks “among the top cities in Central Texas for greater ethnic diversity, higher wages and lower unemployment rates based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2013 results.” The city has the highest African-American population, at 14.4%, in the region. Austin’s African-American population is 8% and declining as many families relocate to the suburbs.

“We talk a lot about social capital and community, and what happens when you have someone who can not only inspire you, but can connect you to a new opportunities to advance yourself and your company,” Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce CEO Natalie Cofield says. “And having more black entrepreneurs in the city of Austin, having more entrepreneurs, period, is important to the fabric of any city. So why would we not want more black entrepreneurs to be part of the equation of what happens with this city’s growth?”

We also spoke to April Kearney who owns Blling Salon and Retail in downtown Pflugerville. Alsmot 10 years ago she moved her business from Austin to Pflugerville. You can see that story on Saturday during NewsHour or here.

Summer Brain Drain, or “Summer Slide” or “Summer Learning Loss,” is used to describe the estimated 43 million children in the U.S. who miss out on learning opportunities in the summer. Low-income youth lose more than 2 months worth of reading skills, while their higher income peers make small gains. Those numbers come from The Boys and Girls Club, which runs a national program called Summer Brain Gain aimed at keeping at-risk children on track.

The Boys and Girls Club of Austin runs the program at Thurmond Heights and Chalmers Court apartments, which are operated by the Housing Authority of the City of Austin. Participants are rising Kindergartners through upcoming 5th graders. The program also runs during the school year, allowing children who are at-risk to obtain quality out of school time all year long.

“[Our participants] are high risk for everything,” Boys and Girls Club of Austin CEO Mark Kiester says. “What we try to do is flip the school day for the kids. We feed them, they get some exercise, but we turn learning into engaging activities. That’s what makes learning different.”

We hear more from Kiester and from Dr. Walter Stroup, Associate Professor at UT’s School of Education in our Sunday story. You can see it in the video below.

KLRU News Briefs air locally at 6:30pm during PBS NewsHour Weekend. Our Sunday story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative which is aimed at increasing awareness about factors that lead to dropout in Central Texas. 

Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

American Graduate: Summer Program Keeps Refugee Children Fed and Ready to Learn

Food banks serve about 3.5 million Texans each year. One of the most effective ways to make sure children are fed is through school breakfast and lunch programs, which are free or reduced-price for about two-thirds of Texas school children. But, when schools lets out for the summer, those children need to be fed in other ways.

“At our food banks we always see an increase in requests for emergency food from families with children during the summer months,” said Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas, an association which represents the state’s 21 food banks. “It’s hard to quantify; some kids are eating at home, some kids may be in camp, but we know from the sheer numbers that are relying on that important school meal during the day, that when summer hits a lot of those kids may go hungry.”

One organization running a summer lunch program is iACT, or Interfaith Action of Central Texas. iACT works with refugees to teach them English and train them how to assimilate to life in the U.S. They also run a summer program for refugee children, which provides food and English lessons taught by volunteer teachers.

When refugees arrive in Austin they receive 3 months rent, utilities, food stamps, and Medicaid for about 8 months.

“These are people with very few resources,” Program Director Lubna Zeidan says. “They are the working poor. The children, there’s not a lot of food at home. There’s some food because they know how to make ends meet. They know how to be frugal, but again, the children’s nutrition is probably suffering in some families.”

Many of the families iACT works with are Muslim, so they work with the food bank to provide halal meats and meals without pork products. Zeidan says one of the biggest challenges is overcoming differences in the way the families are used to eating.

“It’s important that they have american food,” she says. “One of the things is the kids won’t drink the milk. Because milk is a very American drink. So we find that nobody drinks the milk. Except for the chocolate milk because you have the angle of it being chocolate.”

She says many of the parents find American supermarkets foreign and overwhelming. Her clients find vegetables and fruits they’ve never eaten and with very limited money they often resort of eating only rice and beans, which can lead to malnutrition.

Malnutrition can severely impact a young person’s development and ability to learn in the classroom.

“It can mean more absences, more difficulty concentrating, lower test scores, health, all sorts of problems that can affect a kid’s growing and health and development, particularly in those younger years,” Cole of Feeding Texas says. “So we don’t want to see kids missing a meal because their parents can’t afford to feed them under any circumstances. It’s having consequences that aren’t only hurting that kid, or that family, or that community, or that school, but have serious cost to the whole state of Texas.”

Feeding Texas keeps track of how many children are accessing free or reduced-price lunch versus the amount who are being fed by summer programs and have found only 1 in 10 kids are being reached when school is out. So they are working on pilot programs to bring food to where children are, rather than relying on busy parents to drop their child off at a food bank, camp, or nonprofit location.

“You’ll often hear, ‘hunger is a health problem’ and ‘hunger is a pocketbook issue,’” Cole says. “And it’s true, the costs associated with food insecurity are just enormous for the state. So we have every reason to invest in strategies and programs during the summer months that make sure that kids go back to school ready to learn and healthy in the fall.”

This story airs on KLRU on Sunday, July 12, 2015 at 6:30pm during PBS NewsHour Weekend. It’s part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative which is aimed at increasing awareness about the dropout crisis in Central Texas. 

Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

 

KLRU News Brief: Local Millennials Fighting Against Racial Injustice

This story was written by KLRU and PBS NewsHour intern Kennedy Huff. Kennedy is an alumna of the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs program. 

Chants of “Black Lives Matter,” and “No justice, No peace,” are filling the streets of cities across the country. Social activists have called for change in the way police officers interact with minority communities.  In Austin, some young adults are at the frontlines of these protests.

“I’ve participated in a number of protests following the Michael Brown decision,” student activist Aderius Ross said. “I’ve linked up with a couple of organizations here in the community and just networking with people in Austin who are committed to the same causes as I am.”

There have only been a handful of cases where officers shot and killed unarmed civilians in Austin. In the summer of 2013, former APD Detective Charles Kleinart shot unarmed Larry Jackson Jr., a black man, after he tried entering a local bank that was previously robbed. Kleinart questioned Jackson as he tried to get into the bank which led to a foot chase, physical struggle, and eventually resulted in Kleinart shooting Jackson in the back of the neck.

Incidents like this highlight the divide between law enforcement and the community they serve. These young crusaders feel the best way to bridge the gap is for officers to forge relationships with community members.

“It’s getting rid of the us vs them mentality, I think. Door-to-door maybe,” Ross said. “Saying ‘Hey, I’ll be patrolling this community. I want to become a familiar face,’ rather than just ‘Me, I’m in an authoritative position, you’re just a civilian,’ be more friendly, be more interactive, creating actual communities.”

Recent high school graduate and activist Alexa Spencer believes it also falls on the community to not cast all officers in a negative light.

“I think it all begins with intentions. There are police officers [who] have good hearts,” Spencer said. “Don’t make an assumption that a police officer is automatically a bad person because that’s not always true.”

Community member expresses grievances to APD Police Chief Art Acevedo. Following the shootings at the Emmanuel African Methodist Espiscopal Church in Charelston, SC a local church held a town hall meeting to address race relations in Austin. Photo Credits: Kennedy Huff

Community member expresses grievances to APD Police Chief Art Acevedo. Following the shootings at the Emmanuel African Methodist Espiscopal Church in Charelston, SC a local church held a town hall meeting to address race relations in Austin.
Photo Credits: Kennedy Huff

The Austin Police Department is working to remedy the distrust between both groups. In 2003, the Cultural Immersion Program was enacted to help officers familiarize themselves with the communities they patrol.

“We try to work with Travis County as well and with other city departments to try and bridge that gap between the community and police,” African-American Outreach Liaison Sharon Cannon said. “We have a lot of town hall meetings, and we invite the community to come so they can actually talk with the officers to air out their complaints.”

 

If you ask Alexa Spencer, love is the true cure for what seems like a constant cycle of violence.

“Stand for love, walk with love, move with love, don’t judge,” Spencer said. “Tackle hate right now. That’s what we need to focus on.”

This story airs on KLRU Saturday, July 11, 2015 at 6:30pm during PBS NewsHour Weekend.

KLRU News Briefs: Goodwill Excel Center’s First Graduating Class

Last fall we introduced you to the Goodwill Excel Center, a charter school which enrolls students who formerly dropped out of high school. This Sunday during NewsHour, we attend the school’s inaugural graduation ceremony. 33 of the 43 graduates are over the age of 26, which means they are too old to earn a traditional high school diploma and would have only been able to earn a GED.

A high school diploma translates into high earning potential and makes the students more competitive if they hope to earn a higher degree. But school officials tell us being able to finally graduate from high school means even more to these families.

“It’s not only about a job now, it’s about a career, and about the example they’re setting for their kids,” Superintendent Traci Berry says. “Because we know that people who drop out of school, their kids are more likely to drop out as well.”

If you missed NewsHour last weekend we have some other stories you can catch up on. Last week we looked at the debate surrounding some of Austin’s Confederate monuments. That story is in the video below. We also highlighted An Eastside Education, KLRU’s first-ever digital news project, which follows Austin’s Eastside Memorial High School as students, parents and administrators work to meet state accountability for the first time in over 10 years and keep their school doors open. You can watch An Eastside Education here.

KLRU News Briefs air locally every Saturday and Sunday evening at 6:30 during PBS NewsHour Weekend. Sunday’s story and An Eastside Education are part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. 

Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

In the Studio: Andy Roddick Tapes Overheard (6/29)

Overheard taping announcement

Please join KLRU’s Overheard with Evan Smith for an interview with Andy Roddick on June 29 at 5:15pm in KLRU’s Studio 6A (map). Doors open at 4:45pm.  The event is free but an RSVP is required. RSVP HERE.

AndyRoddickheadshotAndy Roddick is a former professional tennis player, former ATP World No. 1, and a philanthropist. He won his first Grand Slam singles title in 2003 and for the next decade was consistently ranked in the top 10. He was the youngest-ever ATP Player of the Year. Andy reached the Wimbledon finals three times in his career, and the Australian Open semi-finals four times. He retired from tennis in 2012. Andy is co-host of Fox Sports Live and of the Fox Sports Live podcast. The Andy Roddick Foundation provides out-of-school programs to underserved young people in Austin.

We hope you’ll be there as Overheard with Evan Smith wraps a fifth season of interviews featuring engaging conversations with fascinating people. The show airs on PBS stations nationally and presents a wide range of thoughtmakers and tastemakers from the fields of politics, journalism, business, arts, sports and more. Please join us and be part of the studio audience at this taping with Andy Roddick. And don’t forget you can watch past episodes anytime at klru.org/overheard

 

KLRU News Briefs: Juneteenth at the Bullock Museum, and Ann Richards Students Take Science Outside

Today, June 19, is Juneteenth or Texas Emancipation Day. On this day in 1865, the Texas State Historical Association writes, “Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and issued General Order Number 3, which read in part, ‘The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.’”  To mark Juneteenth, KLRU is airing Juneteenth Jamboree 2015. The hour-long documentary special is available online here and re-airs Sunday, June 21 at 1pm. We’ll air a short piece from the program during PBS NewsHour Weekend on Saturday.

Our segment looks at two art exhibits at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, which focus on African-American storytelling through artwork. “And Still We Rise” and “Reflections” are both traveling exhibits on display through mid-August.

The Bullock’s Deputy Director and Director of Exhibits Margaret Koch explained to us that these exhibits allow all Texans the opportunity to discover African-American history in a richer way.

“There are the stories of resilience, of suffering, of self-determination that you don’t necessarily see unless you’re encountering the artifacts right in the museum itself,” Koch says.

This June, Koch says, marks the 150th anniversary of Texans knowing about the Emancipation Proclamation.

Our Sunday story comes from KLRU’s Central Texas Gardener and looks at how students at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders worked together to build a new teachers’ lounge and garden.

The students refurbished a gutted 1977 Airstream trailer. They created all of the furniture, designing it using 3D modeling software, and building the pieces. Then they planted a garden for the teachers, using knowledge they learned in biology class. The experiential learning project brought together students from the 7th and 10th grades.

“And it was just a contribution that everybody did and it was really cool like the 10th graders built the trailer all the classes would work on separate parts and we were all just working as a good community,” student Marlene Mora says.

 You can see an extended version of that story on the CTG website here.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, every Saturday and Sunday evening at 6:30pm. Our Sunday story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. 

Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

KLRU News Briefs: Texas Tribune on Perry’s Iowa campaign swing

This weekend during PBS NewsHour our local News Briefs are back after a 2 week hiatus. On Saturday, hear again about Creative Action, which fosters creativity and academic success for young people through art. You can watch our piece about Creative Action here.

Our Sunday story comes from our partners at The Texas Tribune. Multimedia Reporter Alana Rocha traveled to Iowa last weekend for former Governor Rick Perry’s first official campaign stop of his 2016 run for president. He spent Saturday, June 6 at a fundraiser for the Puppy Jake Foundation, which trains service dogs for veterans. Perry, one of only two veterans running for the GOP nomination, has made it a priority to connect with that voting bloc.

“One of the reasons I’m running for the presidency of the United States is to make sure that every active duty member of the military and every veteran receives the type of care and recognition that they deserve in this country,” Perry told the crowd.

His second stop was U.S. Senator Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride in nearby Boone. Perry and six of his fellow GOP presidential hopefuls had 8 minutes each to address the crowd. Perry is planning a seven-city fundraising tour around Texas during his campaign, including Dallas, San Antonio, Lubbock, Houston, Midland, Mission and Beaumont.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, every Saturday and Sunday evening at 6:30. 

KLRU News Briefs: Learning Cultural Heritage, and Texas Tribune highlights #txlege

“For the most part, children in our public schools are not getting a curriculum that responds to their culture, their identity, their communities that affirm who they are.  So children who come to Academia Cuauhtli have an opportunity to learn that they’re not marginal, and learn that they’re members of a community that has roots that go all the way back to the original inhabitants of this continent.”

That quote comes from Dr. Angela Valenzuela, Co-Founder of Academia Cuauhtli, which offers classes about Mexican-American and Tejano culture every Saturday at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. This weekend during PBS NewsHour we visit a recent class to learn more about how their program fills the gaps in common history courses.

“Children at this level are learning about Greek gods, and getting access to Texas history, and this is an opportunity to share from a grounded, rooted, historic standpoint what that culture, language, and arts are and have been for this community,” Dr. Valenzuela said. “A lot of children feel very alienated and distanced from school, particularly if they’re immigrants. [This] helps them to feel connected to the larger curriculum. It becomes a bridge.”

On Sunday, The Texas Tribune rounds up the past week at the Texas State Capitol. Lawmakers advanced further restrictions on abortions, including bills that would ban abortion coverage from health insurance plans, and require abortion facilities to post information about adoption. Also this week, Governor Greg Abbott reported for jury duty, a new survey from the University of Texas at Austin shows a majority of Americans support a cities’ ability to ban fracking, and a House committee voted to designate an official hashtag of the Texas Legislature. You can see the Tribune’s Political Roundup in the video below.

 

KLRU News Briefs: Social and Emotional Learning through Art, Pre-K Debate Mired in Politics

This weekend during PBS NewsHour, we talk to the members of Creative Action, a non-profit arts organization. Plus, The Texas Tribune Roundup highlights the week from the State Capitol.

Creative Action works to use art and creative expression to reinvigorate young people’s love of learning.

“We use the arts to spark and support student’s social and emotional learning,” Sophie Hopkins, Director of Teen Programs at Creative Action, said.

Social and Emotional Learning, often referred to as SEL, is a priority in AISD. In the district SEL teaches “recognizing and managing our emotions, developing caring and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively and ethically.”

On Sunday we once again air the Texas Political Roundup from Alana Rocha at The Texas Tribune.  This week, tensions over breakfast between Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus regarding Pre-K and ‘school choice’ legislation advances. The bill, by state Senator Larry Taylor (R – Friendswood), would set up an initial $100 million in state tax credits for businesses that donate money to fund scholarships for special-needs and low-income students. The measure now goes to the House.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, every Saturday and Sunday evening at 6:30. Our Saturday story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx.