It All Adds Up

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.

Liz’s nominator, Galia Farber, 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.

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.

American Graduate Champion: Project MALES

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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.

project-malesToday’s Champion is Project MALES! Project MALES is a research-based mentoring program housed in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement over at The University of Texas at Austin that works specifically with males of color directly through Austin ISD.

Their nominator, Jorge Segovia, says, “Project MALES is a champion due to the awareness they’re trying to raise on the issue of male educational attainment. Based on the research conducted, males are more likely than females to drop out of high school. Males are also less likely than females to continue on with their education. This year, Project MALES has partnered directly through Austin ISD, also becoming a part of the “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative through Austin ISD.”

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: Doni Whitlow

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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.

doni-whitlowToday’s Champion is Doni Whitlow! Doni is a mother in Richmond, Texas. She has helped her son develop into the player that he has become, on and off the field.

Her son, Markail Caron, says, “Single mothers are some of the strongest people in the world and can even be heroes.”

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: Glenell Bankhead

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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.

glenell-bankheadToday’s Champion is Glenell Bankhead! Glenell is the principal of Neidig Elementary School in Elgin. She motivates the kids to be leaders and to strive for greatness, and she cares for every student in the school, showing love and support for each and every one of them.

Her nominator, Sara Perez, says, “You can see the energy she brings into each project she gives, transferring it to the students. She gives many opportunities for the kids to learn and engage in new ideas and skills.”

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.