Minors playing in E minor: Juvenile Justice Center Residents Learn the Art of Classical Guitar

This story was written by KLRU and PBS NewsHour intern Kennedy Huff. Kennedy is an alumna of the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs program. Kennedy’s story aired during PBS NewsHour on Tuesday, September 8, 2015. You can see it in the video below.

Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center serves as a probation facility for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. While in detention, the residents continue working toward their high school diploma, get exposure to trades, and learn a variety of arts.

Five years ago, Gardner-Betts partnered with Austin Classical Guitar Society to teach classical guitar to residents, allowing them to earn a fine art credit necessary for graduation.

“It started with the recommendation from one of our members,” Director of Education and Outreach for Austin Classical Guitar, Travis Marcum, said. “He set up a meeting between us and Gardner-Betts. [He was] just thinking that these kids might have a specific need, that they’re not getting really any arts education while they’re incarcerated, so this might be a good fit for us.”

Guitar Instructor, Jeremy Osborne performs a concert piece with his students. Austin Classical Guitar works with Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center to teach classical guitar to residents. Photo by Kennedy Huff

Guitar Instructor, Jeremy Osborne performs a concert piece with his students. Austin Classical Guitar works with Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center to teach classical guitar to residents. Photo by Kennedy Huff

Last winter, Jeremy Osborne began teaching the guitar class at Gardner-Betts. Osborne held many fears about handling the program, but one stood above the rest.

“When I took over I knew what to expect but [I had] a lot of trepidation actually,” Osborne said. “You know there’s a lock on every door, you have to memorize a handful of codes to get through all the different security blocks and everything and it’s really disorienting. Starting with this project brought out a lot of personal anxieties and fear. It wasn’t about getting attacked by a student, or whatever, it was literally like ‘I’m not gonna do a good job for these kids.’”

However, Osborne’s assumptions proved to be wrong. The students in the program think highly of him and are grateful for the class. Demetrius, Israel, and Peter have all been at Gardner-Betts for over a year.

“I’m 18, never thought I’d see the light, never thought I’d see the day that I’d be graduating,” Demetrius said.  “I really like the feeling, because everybody in my family graduated high school, went to college at least one year, maybe two, and dropped out, got locked up, or died. It showed me a different path. Instead of going down the wrong road I can go down the right one.”

“I used to actually have a real bad anger problem,” Israel said. “So when I would get real angry, or I could be like sad, I guess you could say, or withdrawn I get on my guitar. It’s just really given me something to do when I’m bored or thinking about something, I guess, that’s not in my best interest.”

Gardner-Betts resident, Peter, receives assistance from guitar instructor, Jeremy Osborne. Peter will continue playing guitar when he begins college in the fall.

Gardner-Betts resident, Peter, receives assistance from guitar instructor, Jeremy Osborne. Peter will continue playing guitar when he begins college in the fall. Photo by Kennedy Huff

Prior to joining the program, Peter was a high school dropout. With the help of Osborne, he is set to attend San Jacinto College this fall, in the pursuit of a music production degree.

“My mom is excited,” Peter said. “Usually if she heard something about me it was always bad and it feels good to have something good like graduating high school, learning how to play the guitar, going to school. Now every time she sees me she just smiles. I’m sure her cheeks hurt by now.”

A recent study from the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University found that 75% of juveniles released from a juvenile probation facility in Texas are rearrested up to 5 years after their release. Jeremy Osborne hopes the skills students have learned in his class will keep them from reentering the criminal justice system.

“If you talk to a lot of the staff here they’ll say it’s pretty common that statistically a lot of these kids will re-offend and wind up back here,” Osborne said. “I would like to think that at least a handful of them can kinda keep [on a good] path when they get out of here. They always have a guitar there to come to when they’re stressed out. My ultimate hope for them is that they come out of here and don’t come back.”

KLRU News Brief: 10 Years After Katrina, Some Evacuees Remain in Austin

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, thousands of evacuees traveled to Texas. More than 7,000 came to Austin, where many slept in the Austin Convention Center. To mark 10 years since the storm KLRU spoke with 7 New Orleanians about their experiences during Hurricane Katrina and why they chose to stay in Austin to create a new life.

One of those individuals is Jese Webb. Jese stayed in New Orleans during the storm. He didn’t leave his home until he was forced to do so by rising water after the levees broke. He then spent up to 5 days in the New Orleans Convention Center. He arrived by plane to Austin and spent another 6 days at the Austin Convention Center. Now he’s a preacher and a hair stylist.

Aquita “Q” Gaddis-Gray was a young single mom when she drove out of New Orleans before the storm hit. She evacuated with her three year old daughter and a hundred dollars to her name. Now, she’s a cosmetologist, is married, and has 4 children. Q says she stayed in Austin to experience a different life than the one she had in New Orleans and 10 years later she calls herself blessed.

You can find all of our interviews marking the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina here.

News Briefs: Texas Tribune Report on New Laws Hitting the Books Sept. 1

Many of the laws passed during the recent legislative session go into effect September 1st. This weekend during PBS NewsHour, our partners at The Texas Tribune look at two of those new laws. The stories, reported by Multimedia Reporter Alana Rocha, are part of the Tribune’s 31 Days, 31 Ways series.

You may not have known that up until the passage of House Bill 104 it was illegal for professional hair stylists to do their work “on location,” outside of a traditional salon. The clients who usually ask for that type of service are brides on their wedding day.

“Some [wedding venues] have gone to the extreme, they’ve got great lit mirrors and multi-plugs every so many feet. That makes it easier for me to come and service their brides,” Lecia Harkins of Beauty on the Go says.

But even with all of those accommodations, Harkins and other beauticians and cosmetologists were actually breaking the law. House Bill 104, a bill by state Rep. James White, spells out in statute the ability for those professionals to beautify bridal parties wherever is convenient for them and work other special events.

Another new law is meant to prevent patients with health insurance from suffering sticker shock when the bill comes from a hospital visit. Senate Bill 481 minimizes the impact of so-called “balance billing” on policyholders.

Currently, if the balance bill patients get stuck with is below $1,000, they have to cover the cost. In most cases if a bill is over that amount doctors and insurers will negotiate a deal, if patients request mediation. Starting September 1st, that threshold will be lowered to $500.

The Texas Association of Business supported the new law, and the group hopes to eliminate balance billing all together next session.

“We think that for those who have insurance, the insurance company should be able to go to bat and negotiate a rate for the entire difference between the contracted rate and what the doctors are billing them for,” says Bill Hammond, President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

Doctors’ groups worry that eliminating balance billing will force them to spend more time in mediation with insurers and less time with patients.

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

American Graduate: Eastside Memorial Makes State Accountability for First Time in Over a Decade

Austin’s embattled Eastside Memorial High School has made state accountability for the first time since 2002. The Texas Education Agency published ratings for all campuses and districts in the state on Friday. Eastside has been under threat of closure since 2013. In order for the school to keep its doors open, administrators, teachers, staff, and students have worked to resuscitate failing test scores and close achievement gaps. The school’s quest was chronicled this spring in An Eastside Education, a digital documentary produced by KLRU.

In June 2013, Education Commissioner Michael Williams said Eastside could stay open, but gave school leaders and the Austin ISD School Board three years to make accountability or be shuttered for a year. They are now partnered with Johns Hopkins Talent Development Secondary, a contracted partner out of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

CruzPressConference

At a press conference Austin Independent School District’s Superintendent Paul Cruz shares that all AISD high schools met state accountability. The Texas Education Agency released the accountability results for Texas schools August 7, 2015. This is the first time in over 10 years that Eastside Memorial High School has met state accountability standards.

Austin ISD Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz expressed pride in Eastside’s ability to break through at a press conference Friday.

“The teachers, staff members, the leadership at the school, parents really focused on one thing and that’s student results and they stayed on it,” Dr. Cruz said. “They stayed on it to make sure that all kids would learn.”

He said he spoke with Eastside Principal Bryan Miller once the scores were announced.

“[Principal Miller] was elated,” Dr. Cruz said. “We look at preliminary indicators, we never know until the state puts out accountability results, but he was elated and now that it is here, he’ll be sharing it with his staff members as well.”

Throughout filming of An Eastside Education, teachers, staff, and administrators warned of the dangers in trying to predict a rating before results are announced. All were cautiously optimistic after STAAR test scores were returned in June but stressed the importance of waiting until August when the state makes ratings official.

111 out of AISD’s 124 schools made state accountability this school year, including all of the district’s high schools. That’s up from 109 last year. The state’s current accountability ratings are Met Standard, Met Alternative Standard, Not Rated, or Improvement Required. Eastside Memorial’s official rating before this year was Improvement Required. It is now Met Standard, the highest rating possible.

State accountability for each school in the state is based on four indexes: Student Achievement (or STAAR test scores), student progress from year to year, closing performance gaps between high and low performing students, and Postsecondary Readiness. Eastside has continuously been unable to meet standards on Index 4, Postsecondary Readiness. In previous years, the school met standards on each of the other indexes.

To meet the standard on Index 4, Eastside students needed to not only pass the end of course STAAR exams but also score well enough on the college-readiness scale to be “Level II Recommended.” This year they outperformed the state’s target scores in all of those indexes. The school earned an additional three of seven possible distinctions, including academic achievement in math.

A sticking point for many teachers and students at Eastside has been the so-called “choice policy,” which means that since Eastside has been rated a failing school parents can opt out of sending their child there in favor of a higher rated school. This has led to very low enrollment and, according to many on campus, a brain drain of smart kids leaving Eastside for other area high schools. Dr. Cruz said regardless of the new rating, that policy is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

“I don’t see a change [in the choice policy] for Eastside Memorial High School,” Dr. Cruz said. “We do have a choice policy around the district so I do see that we would continue that with the school. We have choice in all of our schools. It’s a little bit different [at Eastside] with transportation but some of our other schools have that as well. I do think it’s important for parents to choose schools, choose programs, and so that is something that we value as a district.”

The final chapter of An Eastside Education will be released September 1, 2015.

 An Eastside Education is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public BroadcastingAmerican Graduate is aimed at increasing awareness about factors that lead to dropout in Central Texas.

Austin Revealed: Pioneers From the East – The Wong Family

Austin Revealed is an oral history project sharing the stories of Austin’s past and present to encourage discussion and thought around the city’s future.

In this series of Austin RevealedPioneers From the East, we profile three of the first families of Chinese origin to settle in the Austin area. Learn about their cultures, their histories and how living in Austin has shaped their families in these short documentaries.

The Wong Family
Growing up as part of one of the first families of Chinese descent in Austin, Dr. Mitchel Wong “wasn’t looking for prejudice, wasn’t looking for any animosity, and didn’t see any animosity.” In this documentary, Wong recounts his family’s immigrant history as a member of the “Pershing Chinese” and his personal journey from grocery boy to ophthalmologist.

Check out the stories of two other local families of Chinese origin, the Sing family and the Lung family.

Austin Revealed: Pioneers From the East – Lung Family

Austin Revealed is an oral history project sharing the stories of Austin’s past and present to encourage discussion and thought around the city’s future.

In this series of Austin RevealedPioneers From the East, we profile three of the first families of Chinese origin to settle in the Austin area. Learn about their cultures, their histories and how living in Austin has shaped their families in these short documentaries.

The Lung Family
As an employee at the Texas Capitol Gift Shop, Joe Michael Lung meets visitors from around the globe. But for him, none of those places compare to Texas. In this documentary, Joe and his sister Meiling Lung tell stories of their grandfather, Joe Lung, and their father, Sam P. Lung—beloved restauranteurs in the community and members of one of the first families of Chinese descent in Austin.

Check out the stories of two other local families of Chinese origin, the Sing family and the Wong family.

Austin Revealed: Pioneers From the East – The Sing Family

Austin Revealed is an oral history project sharing the stories of Austin’s past and present to encourage discussion and thought around the city’s future.

In this series of Austin Revealed, Pioneers From the East, we profile three of the first families of Chinese origin to settle in the Austin area. Learn about their cultures, their histories and how living in Austin has shaped their families in these short documentaries.

The Sing Family
Mary Frances Aguallo and her grandson Raul Aguallo Hernandez always knew they were of Chinese descent, but the fragments of their history finally began to come together with the discovery of a lost box in an attic. In this documentary, the two explore their dual identity as Mexican American and Chinese American as part of the Sing family, one of the first families of Chinese origin to settle in Austin.

Check out the stories of two other local families of Chinese origin, the Wong family and the Lung family.

Austin Revealed: Austin’s Asian American Resource Center

Austin Revealed is an oral history project sharing the stories of Austin’s past and present to encourage discussion and thought around the city’s future.

In this series of Austin RevealedPioneers From the East, we profile three of the first families of Chinese origin to settle in the Austin area – the Sing family, the Wong family and the Lung family.

In addition, Austin Revealed takes you inside Austin’s Asian American Resource Center, a community center focusing on celebrating Austin’s unique Asian community.

The AARC
Austin’s Asian American Resource Center, or AARC, truly embraces Austin’s unique community of Asian people from all over the world. Acting as a bridge between the Asian American community and Austin, the center is one of the most utilized in the city. The AARC provides programs for senior citizens, activities for families, cultural and art exhibits and much more.

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

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.