American Graduate Champion: Kevin Ritcherson

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KLRU shares the inspiring stories of the people that are making our community a success! As part of our American Graduate initiative, we’re honoring American Graduate Champions that have been submitted by the community.

kevinritchersonwgraduateandhermomToday’s Champion is Kevin Ritcherson! Kevin is a College Prep Coach and youth motivator. He presents College Prep boot camps at schools across Texas and in other states.

His nominator, Donna Hoffman, says, “Kevin exemplifies a great role model of attitudinal positivity, flexibility and firmness — clarity of vision. He is a great motivator for young people who might not otherwise see themselves as college material and provides information to young people who might not otherwise know what to do to prepare themselves to be accepted in and succeed in college.”

Do you know someone in our community who is working to improve high school success for students throughout Central Texas? Recognize them as an American Graduate Champion! American Graduate Champions can be students who work as mentors, business leaders who serve as role models, school officials making changes to better the system, parent activists, and even struggling students who are overcoming obstacles in order to graduate.

American Graduate Champion: Rudi Andrus

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KLRU shares the inspiring stories of the people that are making our community a success! As part of our American Graduate initiative, we’re honoring American Graduate Champions that have been submitted by the community.

rudi_andrus.jpegToday’s Champion is Rudi Andrus! Rudi is the Executive Director of Mainsprings School. She works with staff, children, parents and the community at her National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited early childhood school.

Her nominator, Crystal Martinez, says, “Rudi is a champion because she truly is passionate about making a difference in the lives of children and families. She really enjoys walking through her school and seeing the children be happily engaged in learning. Rudi is a great writer, has received grants and is an effective speaker when explaining the devastating effects of poverty on young children and their families to the business community.”

Do you know someone in our community who is working to improve high school success for students throughout Central Texas? Recognize them as an American Graduate Champion! American Graduate Champions can be students who work as mentors, business leaders who serve as role models, school officials making changes to better the system, parent activists, and even struggling students who are overcoming obstacles in order to graduate.

With a month left of summer, teach your kids ‘Smart Screen Time’

KLRU Kids

With just a month left before classes start for Austin-area school districts, and as temperatures rise in Central Texas, it’s important to make sure the time your kids spend in front of their screens is educational and constructive.

ben&cookieBen Kramer, vice president of education for KLRU, started the Smart Screen Time initiative two years ago to develop a set of guidelines for digital media use for children, parents, educators and caretakers. We sat down with Ben to talk about the program and what parents can do with only one month of summer left for many kids.

Download a printable version of the Smart Screen Time guide (pdf): Smart Screen Time™ | La Pantalla Inteligente™ To watch Smart Screen Time videos in Spanish and English, click here.

 

Where did the idea for Smart Screen Time come along and what were the original goals of the project?

The idea first came along because we were starting to get questions about how much screen time is safe for kids, and it turned out to be a much more complicated answer than just a set time limit. In the meantime, what was happening is that in our own outside world, the use of screens was exploding, particularly with kids. Because as tablet computers became more and more prevalent, younger and younger kids could manipulate them in ways that they couldn’t do with keyboards or even with smartphones. The tablets really did make a huge difference for these littlest kids.

So, we embarked on some kind of messaging campaign – we are perhaps the only media company in families’ lives that will actually tell them to turn us off. We know that our educational goals for our programs and our apps and all the work that we do isn’t really complete until the kids can actually do things with what they’ve picked up from the programs or games, like read or solve problems. That was the genesis of it, and what we’ve found is that it’s just really resonated with all walks of life. Everyone you talk to has at least some concern about the amount of screen time that kids are getting in their lives, and what it might mean for their development. So, we wanted to come at it in a way of saying, “We’re a media company, so we’re in the midst of it, we produce, we make stuff, but here’s when you know when it’s too much.” We want to shift the question from a simple quantity question to a more quality question, and that’s how Smart Screen Time came up.

We say that kids know instinctively when screen time is smart and when it’s silly. When it’s provoking their thinking, or when it’s just pure entertainment. And we all have time in our lives where we just want pure entertainment. We all have our trash TV moments, we all have our silly movie moments, we all have our stupid game moments, we have all that, so it would be foolhardy to go to kids and say, “No, we only want your screen time to be smart.” That’s not the lives that we as adults lead. So instead, we think of much more realistic and beneficial conversation among families is, “Well, what’s our family balance between smart and silly?”

Many similar campaigns simply tell parents how much to limit their children’s social media use. Why encourage the parents to use screens along with their children?

It’s the same sort of carryover that you would have if a parent is doing a hands-on activity with a kid, or if they’re reading a book with a kid. The three-way interaction of parent and kid and learning event, be it a book or a tablet or a program, is amplified when the discussion occurs. It really helps solidify learning. So the tendency is for kids to just wander off and do their own thing with the screen, and without this injection of saying talking actually solidifies the learning, and it doesn’t have to be talking right there in the moment, it can be after the fact, we lose this opportunity because it’s too easy for kids to go off and have their screen lives, so we want to bring adults back into this triad.

With only one month left of summer, what can parents do now to help their kids be successful when it comes to using screens efficiently?

The last month is critical, because first of all, the temperature has gone way up, so these kids are going to be spending more time indoors. Secondly, kids are going to be more bored during the summer. Thirdly, the more schools turn to tablets and chrome books and whatever for the main delivery of their resources, our messaging really doesn’t change as we get to the end of summer and into the fall again. The key is to have an honest and open dialogue with your kids and to reach some decisions that all of you can be comfortable with, not just adult dictating to kid, but what screen practices are you going to uphold in your home that apply to everyone? Including the balance of smart and silly, including the determination when somebody in the home becomes a screen zombie, that some decision has to happen at that moment, and that decision is either get active and do something else or go to bed, that’s it. There’s no wiggle room. These problems are not going to go away at the end of summer.

What other resources do you have for parents who want to help their children use screens in a smarter way?

We’ve tried to build KLRU Kids as a safe browsing experience for kids to find stuff they’re interested in. On that, we have a set of screenshots of all the apps we put on our machines, our iPads, so that folks can get a glimpse of what we recommend online through the website itself but then within the website there’s the recommended apps button which will give the list of things we recommend for tablets.

It All Adds Up airs July 27th

KLRU presents It All Adds Up, a documentary profiling the teachers and students of Wayne State University’s “Math Corps,” a groundbreaking organization that partners struggling middle and high-school students from Detroit’s public schools with collegians, who help teach vital math and life skills the kids need to succeed.

After 16 years, the program’s results speak volumes: more than 90 percent of Math Corps’ students graduate from high school, and more than 80 percent attend college. Produced by Academy Award-winning director Sue Marx, the documentary features engaging and heart-warming interviews with alumni and current campers who testify to the life-changing impact of the Math Corps.

The documentary premieres July 27 at 10 pm on KLRU.

It All Adds Up is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The American Graduate initiative seeks to establish a clearer understanding about why students drop out of high school and how drop out impacts our economy and society.

American Graduate Champion: Briana Lopez

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KLRU shares the inspiring stories of the people that are making our community a success! As part of our American Graduate initiative, we’re honoring American Graduate Champions that have been submitted by the community.

briana-lopez-lifeworks-logoToday’s Champion is Briana Lopez! Briana is a mother of two and a full-time retail employee who recently obtained her GED through Lifeworks. Briana aspires to study pharmacy and plans on attending ACC and eventually Texas State or UT.

Jaime Rich, Briana’s nominator, says, “Briana’s story shows her determination to further her education, no matter how difficult or scary it seemed. She was driven to make a better life for herself and her girls. Despite the many roles and commitments in her life, she was able to carve a place in her daily routine for her education.”

Do you know someone in our community who is working to improve high school success for students throughout Central Texas? Recognize them as an American Graduate Champion! American Graduate Champions can be students who work as mentors, business leaders who serve as role models, school officials making changes to better the system, parent activists, and even struggling students who are overcoming obstacles in order to graduate.

American Graduate Champion: Libby Lucera

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KLRU shares the inspiring stories of the people that are making our community a success! As part of our American Graduate initiative, we’re honoring American Graduate Champions that have been submitted by the community.

libby-luceraToday’s Champion is Libby Lucera! Libby is the French teacher and French club sponsor at Westlake High School. She teaches her students to love the language and culture, as well as how to be successful learners in her class and beyond.

Her nominator, Natalie Cannon, says, “She provides meaningful and valuable feedback on everything that her students do. It is so important that her students have immediate feedback that she spends many hours every night and weekend to make it happen. She also creates notes, guides, practice sheets and everything that she gives to them by herself. She is there to help them when they need it, and she does it with grace and enthusiasm.”

Do you know someone in our community who is working to improve high school success for students throughout Central Texas? Recognize them as an American Graduate Champion! American Graduate Champions can be students who work as mentors, business leaders who serve as role models, school officials making changes to better the system, parent activists, and even struggling students who are overcoming obstacles in order to graduate.

American Graduate Champion: Liz Conway Plachta

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KLRU shares the inspiring stories of the people that are making our community a success! As part of our American Graduate initiative, we’re honoring American Graduate Champions that have been submitted by the community.

liz-conway-plachtaToday’s Champion is Liz Conway Plachta! Liz runs a nonprofit organization called Ruby’s Rainbow that grants scholarships to adults with Down syndrome who are seeking post-secondary educational opportunities.

The nomination from the community says, “In 2010, Liz and her husband Tim had an adorable daughter Ruby – who was born with an extra chromosome. They knew they wanted to ensure that Ruby had all the opportunities possible for her success in education and in life, and this quickly expanded into Liz wanting to help others with Down syndrome be able to go on to college as well. Inspired by her daughter, Liz founded the organization Ruby’s Rainbow and started fundraising to help provide college scholarships to help individuals with Down syndrome.”

Do you know someone in our community who is working to improve high school success for students throughout Central Texas? Recognize them as an American Graduate Champion! American Graduate Champions can be students who work as mentors, business leaders who serve as role models, school officials making changes to better the system, parent activists, and even struggling students who are overcoming obstacles in order to graduate.

An Eastside Education: Behind the story

An Eastside Education tells the story of an Austin high school struggling to meet state standards. For years Eastside Memorial High School has been plagued by failing test scores and negative headlines. The story follows one semester as teachers, parents, administrators, and students fight to meet state accountability standards or watch their school be closed.

To see what it took to put the project together, we sat down with the KLRU minds behind the project, producer and writer Allison Sandza and videographer and editor Blair Waltman-Alexin.

Q: Where did the idea for the project come from?

A: KLRU was awarded a grant by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which made us an American Graduate station, which funded reporting on the dropout crisis in our region. So, we wanted to take a hyperlocal look at the dropout crisis in our region and we started talking about what schools we could use as a lens to talk about that issue, and we remembered Eastside Memorial. Everyone in Austin has heard about Eastside Memorial before. It’s had a lot of bad press for over 10 years. It hasn’t been able to meet state accountability, it’s been repurposed, renamed, all these different things, so we thought, “Hmm, let’s check in there.” We had recently met the dropout prevention specialist, or the graduation coach [at Eastside], and he mentioned to us just offhand that the dropout rate at Eastside had dropped from 6 percent to 1 percent in just a few years, so that kind of piqued our interest as well. We went over there, we started talking to them, and we realized there was so much more to the story, so we wanted to follow them for a whole semester and see what a school like Eastside was like for a whole semester. -A.S.

Q: What was it like spending an entire semester at Eastside?

A: It was interesting. It was very different from how you normally approach filming and producing a news-focused story, because if you’re doing a regular news piece on a school, you’re in a classroom for maybe 15 minutes, get a few shots, talk to a couple of people, and then that’s it, you kind of leave, you’re disassociated from the group, and there’s more distance between you and your subject. But with this, we were checking in with the principal all throughout the semester, checking in with the same teachers all throughout the semester, asking them, “How are things going? How do you feel like you’re doing with testing?” So you get a lot more involved than you normally do with a regular news story. Also, you’re trying so hard not to be obtrusive, but you have to be there so much more of the time. We spent a lot of time in one of the teacher’s English classes, so you’re hanging out for maybe, like, an hour, waiting for the class to end so you can interview her, and then you also want to get her teaching the class, so you’re trying to cover that as much as you can, but then also not distract the students, because they’re there to learn and you’re trying to not interfere with that, so it’s a little bit different. You’re trying to be there as much as you can, and also be invisible as much as you can. -B.W.

And so much of the story at Eastside relies on how they’re going to perform on the STAAR test, the state accountability exam, so much of the spring semester that we were there has to do with that test that happens in March and April. So it was interesting to be able to watch these students come back from winter break, you know, everyone’s still kind of on vacation mode, then buckle down, do mock testing, do the real test, deal with the emotional and physical exhaustion that goes into taking this five-hour exam, and then watch these administrators and the students and the teachers wait for test scores to come back. It was a really interesting thing to see, just the spectrum, and then you end with graduation, which again, is a celebratory thing, and people getting ready for vacation. I’m glad that we followed them during the spring semester, I think that was a really interesting thing to experience. -A.S.

Q: The media hasn’t been friendly to Eastside in recent years. What was your reception on campus from students and teachers who are concerned about bad press for their school?

A: It seemed like there was a little bit of unease, not everybody, but a few people. There would be a little bit of, you know, “What are you going to say about our school?” And I think that’s a well-deserved emotion for them to have, because they’ve had kind of a rough time in the media for several years, and you think, “Oh, someone else is going to come in and bash our kids, or our teachers, and we’re trying really hard.” Sometimes there would be a little bit of, “What are you doing?” And then we would explain what the project was, and then it was this very immediate, “Oh, okay, that’s cool,” and that seemed to kind of break the tension, once they understood it was a long-form project, that we wanted to talk about how much they’re fighting to stay open, and the history of the school, and it seemed like that put people at ease pretty quickly. -B.W.

I also thought it was interesting that you could tell that these kids had been on camera before, and that there had been cameras in their school before. I think if you went to some of the other high schools in the area, and maybe elsewhere in the state, maybe they would be waving at the camera, but these Eastside kids and their parents and the teachers have been through this before, and yes, there was that standoffishness because they wanted to know, is this another round of bad press that was on the way? But it was almost like they could get used to ignoring a camera in a classroom. It was sort of bizarre in that way, and sort of sad. -A.S.

Yeah, I was thinking about a couple of other shoots we’ve done at other high schools, and that does kind of seem to be a thing, you get this weird look from kids like, “Why are you here and what are you doing in my classroom?” And they’ll either get really nervous and giggly, or they’ll immediately just hide their face, but most of those kids at Eastside, they kind of had this familiarity with, “Oh, it’s a news crew in our school,” and then they just kind of go about their routine. -B.W. 

Q: What did you learn from this project and what should the public take away from the story?

A: I think the biggest takeaway was how many people it takes to keep a school afloat and successful. Everyone thinks of teachers right away, they might think of the principal, but Eastside’s a school with support staff, with outside organizations that help them. Some parents are super involved, some parents aren’t involved at all because they work multiple jobs. But they also have proud alumni who come back to the school, and Eastside’s actually a really small school. It’s probably one of the smallest high schools, if not the smallest high school, in the district. It was a major takeaway, just how many people put their everything into keeping this school alive, you know, even their own money to help these kids be successful. It was pretty inspiring, actually. -A.S.

Yeah, I would say it almost kind of felt like there was this small gravitational pull toward the school, where you have kids that graduated that wanted to come back and help out or do what they could to support the school and show that it’s a school worth fighting for and that there are success stories there. And you had teachers that would stay late every night to work on stuff. There are teachers that help students pay for their prom dresses. It was that type of staff, where they could go home and chill out, but they’re spending their time at the school. You have community members at the school, you have some people in the area that volunteer in their free time to help out with different extracurricular activities because they want to. It just seemed like there’s this pull to do something there and there’s a pride people have in that community for that school that they want to hold it up and see it survive. -B.W.

And I think the takeaway from that is that if this school does get shuttered, it’s more than just students that’ll be relocated and teachers that will get relocated. It’s an entire community that really is fighting to keep it open. When they all used the word to tell us that if the school gets shut down it’ll be “devastating” to this community, I think even a cynical journalist would hear that and learn about the school while reporting on it all semester and say, “Yeah, I think you’re right. I think it would be devastating.” -A.S.


 

An Eastside Education is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The American Graduate initiative seeks to establish a clearer understanding about why students drop out of high school and how drop out impacts our economy and society. An Eastside Education examines these issues up close by exploring how one school, in an at-risk community, is overcoming years of poor performance and trending toward success.

Click here to watch the full six-part digital news project, An Eastside Education.

On Friday, June 26, KUT Austin’s Jennifer Stayton interviewed Allie and Blair about the project. Listen to the interview below.

American Graduate Champion: Joseph Gallardo

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KLRU shares the inspiring stories of the people that are making our community a success! As part of our American Graduate initiative, we’re honoring American Graduate Champions that have been submitted by the community.

joseph-gallardoToday’s Champion is Joseph Gallardo! Joseph is a recent University of Texas graduate and a nonprofit co-founder. While applying to law school, he does research for the western district of Texas and has just co-founded an organization that helps youth from economically disadvantaged communities in San Antonio.

Kenn Cannon, Joseph’s nominator, says, “He’s mentored struggling students at UT as an Academic Success Coach, he worked at the Capitol for Rep. Guillen, and he recently returned from Washington D.C. where he was interning at the Supreme Court of the United States in the Office of the Counselor to the Chief Justice. No matter how great he becomes in life and all the things I know he’s going to accomplish, at the core of it all he will always be a genuinely good person. All he wants to do with his life is help people.”

Do you know someone in our community who is working to improve high school success for students throughout Central Texas? Recognize them as an American Graduate Champion! American Graduate Champions can be students who work as mentors, business leaders who serve as role models, school officials making changes to better the system, parent activists, and even struggling students who are overcoming obstacles in order to graduate.

American Graduate Champion: Dr. Eva Garza-Nyer

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KLRU shares the inspiring stories of the people that are making our community a success! As part of our American Graduate initiative, we’re honoring American Graduate Champions that have been submitted by the community.

eva-garza-nyerToday’s Champion is Dr. Eva Garza-Nyer! Eva is a college counselor in the Austin Independent School District. She has served over 6,500 seniors since 2002. And although she has worked in large comprehensive high schools, she makes every effort to meet each student individually before they cross the graduation stage.

One of Eva’s former students, Adrian Zamora, says, “During high school, Dr. Garza was insistent on having me apply to universities and scholarships that I would never have applied to on my own. She challenged me to think outside the box and was not afraid to tell me if she thought I was taking the easy way out—something that I am appreciative of to this day. Without her direction and invested interest in my future, I would not be where I am today.”

Do you know someone in our community who is working to improve high school success for students throughout Central Texas? Recognize them as an American Graduate Champion! American Graduate Champions can be students who work as mentors, business leaders who serve as role models, school officials making changes to better the system, parent activists, and even struggling students who are overcoming obstacles in order to graduate.