Lanier HS NewsHour Reporting Lab shoots a spot with tennis legend Andy Roddick

On Tuesday, September 12, members of the Lanier High School PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Lab, led by newly named Texas Teacher of the Year Tara Bourdeaux, met Andy Roddick to film his take on mentoring and his involvement with Austin youth through the Andy Roddick Foundation. The result of the interview will become a 90 second spot to promote the October 14 American Graduate Day broadcast and to support mentoring as a vital community activity. Andy now gets to call himself an American Graduate Champion alongside his many other victories!

 

American Graduate Champions celebrated at Austin Chamber of Commerce

A packed house at the Austin Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 12th honored four Austin-area American Graduate Champions. In addition, KLRU was able to preview PBS Spotlight Education Week and point attendees to the local American Graduate resources to help educators, parents, and youth. The following Champions were recognized:

See the video shorts of all four Champions

See KLRU’s list of over 200 local Champions

The event coincided with PBS Spotlight Education Week, a series of programs that highlight the current challenges and promises of education in America. Our four local Champions will be featured throughout the week on-air; in addition, Saturday at 1 pm marks the fifth annual American Graduate Day, a four-hour block of national programming with a particular focus of recruiting mentors to assist students on the road to high school graduation and beyond.  Following the broadcast, KLRU will premiere AISD Champions, a one-hour showcase of student-created films celebrating peers, teachers, coaches, and counselors who are making a difference in student lives.

Local support for Spotlight Education Week comes from Austin Community College. The national multi-year American Graduate initiative is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Spotlight Education week in Austin is supported by Austin Community College.american graduate champion

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.”

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.

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. 

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 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. 

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. 

University-Bound Seniors Celebrated at College Signing Day

Higher-Ed bound students celebrate at College Signing Day.

Higher-Ed bound students celebrate at College Signing Day.

 

May saw Central Texas host its first College Signing Day, an event aimed at honoring high school seniors taking the next step into higher learning.

Over 400 students from 24 different high schools took part in the pep rally hosted by Huston-Tillotson University, where they pledged to pursue their higher education goals..

“It is a wonderful thing to be able to congratulate these young people on achieving their college dreams,” stated Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

For many students, realizing their dream of higher education is more than a personal accomplishment; it also serves as an inspiration for future generations.

“It’s not just them, it’s them being a role model,” said E3 Alliance President Susan Dawson.

Senior Delilah Miramontes echoed that mentality, hoping she can inspire those close to home.

“It’s such a big step for my family,” she said. “My parents didn’t go to college, and I know this inspires my little brother to continue.”

The event was tied to National Decision Day, a nationwide event meant to celebrate seniors for their post secondary plans.