KLRU News Briefs: Austin Roller Derby Exhibit at Bob Bullock Museum

At the Bob Bullock Texas State History museum there’s plenty of artifacts from Texas’ legendary beginning, but go up to the third floor, and you’ll find a different kind of history exhibit. Curated by Jenny Cobb and Erin McClelland, the Bob Bullock’s Roller Derby Exhibit is a unique addition to the museum.

“It [The Roller Derby Exhibit] basically follows the evolution of roller derby from its inception in 1935 to the current evolution of the sport that we’re seeing in Austin today,” said Cobb.

Roller Derby was re-invented in Austin in the early 2000s, beginning a roller derby revival across the world. While many may not know how much Texas is at the heart of the roller derby story, today skaters everywhere view it as the epicenter for the sport.

“I had been skating in the Texas Roller Girls recreational league and what I saw was that the experience that I was having and that a lot of other women were having in the league didn’t match up with the story people were telling about roller derby and I really thought that it was a story that needed to be told more broadly,” said McClelland.

She approached the Bob Bullock Museum with the concept of a roller derby exhibit that would put forth a more well-rounded view of the sport. With contributions from the skating community, the exhibit features everything from dramatic skater ’boutfits’ to a roller derby name generator. It runs through August 8, 2015.

This story airs Saturday, May 23rd, 2015 during PBS NewsHour Weekend at 6:30pm. 

KLRU News Briefs: The fight over decriminalizing truancy in Texas

“Texas prosecutes more than twice the number of truancy cases prosecuted in all other states combined.” That’s according to Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy group which released a report this month entitled Class, Not Court,  outlining why they support decriminalizing truancy in Texas. This weekend and part of next weekend, we look at the different sides of this issue, and try to find out why these students are missing school.

The law currently states that when a child has unexcused absences for 3 days or parts of days within a four-week period, the school can refer the child to court for truancy. If the child racks up unexcused absences for 10 days or parts of days within 6 months, the school “must file a complaint in juvenile or adult criminal court regardless of any ongoing intervention,” according to Texas Appleseed. Truancy is a Class C Misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500.

State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) has filed yet another bill this session to decriminalize truancy. Whitmire’s Senate Bill 106 would make truancy a civil, rather than criminal, offense and would set up early intervention programs to work with the child before they get to court. He authored a similar bill last session. It passed both chambers but was vetoed by Governor Perry. SB106 is scheduled for public hearing this Tuesday, March 31.

“To criminalize [truancy] I think is nuts,” Senator Whitmire said. “I don’t think it helps the family, it certainly profiles the family [and] the student, and I think there’s a better way. We need to get involved in the root cause of the truancy.”

“In most cases truancy is a problem that can be best addressed in the school setting with school officials and the family working together to resolve the underlying issues, bringing in or referring a student to non-profit organizations or other groups when appropriate, but court referral can be, or should be, a very last resort,” Mary Mergler, Director of Appleseed’s School-to-Prison Pipeline Project said.

Many of the people we spoke to mentioned that some districts use an automated system to track absences. We spoke to Lydia De La Garza, Truancy Specialist at Manor ISD. She told us that isn’t the case in Manor.

“At one point when I first moved to Manor, truancy filings were up to 300-400 a year. And so since I came, we cut it in half. Altogether it’s because of my position and providing those interventions and making sure we’re filing on the correct students. It was a computer generated system and it was probably like how other school districts in other areas are probably doing right now,” De La Garza said.

For her, filing for truancy is always the last resort, but sometimes a necessary one.

“So finally when I get to court, then it’s like ‘okay all of these efforts have been done. I need you to help me either make them understand that school is important and that they need to follow through with certain programs.’ Because sometimes they won’t follow through with a certain program of getting involved. Yes, me administering the programs to them is one thing. But then them actually enrolling it, I need more support of a judge to say ‘no, you need to come to these parent workshops.’ And also, working with the student to get enrolled. So we have to investigate that,” De La Garza said.

Manor’s cases end up in the Travis County Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 courtroom in front of Judge Yvonne Williams. Judge Williams sees some of the most economically disadvantaged kids in our region and on two Wednesdays per month her courtroom handles truancy cases.

“We know the big picture is we want you to be good citizens. It’s been shown if you don’t graduate you’re less likely to be employed. So, we know that’s a good goal. Now, how do we make that happen? And that’s what I grapple with in my courtroom on a regular basis,” Judge Williams said. “What I’m trying to do is get behind those issues. I am in favor of decriminalizing.  Do I have an answer to what does that mean in terms of how to enforce? Not yet, but I think good people and good minds are working on it, and one of the things we have to do is make school someplace where children want to go, number 1.  We have to recognize the reason people don’t go to school is lots of reasons. There could be issues at home, issues with the child.”

Some of those issues are highlighted in Texas Appleseed’s report: 1 out of every 8 truancy filings is a student with special education needs.

“Many times what we see is students who have never been identified in the school system as having a disability, even though they have a long standing diagnosis, even though schools are informally aware of their disability, they’re not actually labelled as special education,” Meredith Shytles Parekh, an attorney with Disability Right Texas said. “What we’re seeing is courts getting these cases where the students have the disability, but the school isn’t providing any resources, and the courts are saying, ‘My hands are tied, all I can do is enter a plea for you, find you guilty or no contest,’ or whatever the student is pleading, and assess fines or community service or some other penalty, but it’s nothing that’s going to address the underlying root of what is causing the student’s absences.”

Judge Williams does explain all of the plea offerings to every person in her courtroom, in English and in Spanish through a translator. For special needs cases she says she can usually tell and is careful not to embarrass the student in front of everyone else in the courtroom.

“If it looks like a child has special needs, then I’m going to assign them to my juvenile case manager’s caseload. That person is then going to say ‘Maybe we need to put you with some housing specialists,’ or if the child is pregnant, “Maybe we should send you to any number of the teen pregnancy programs,’ or if it’s just a matter of ‘I’m not learning the way others learn, and I’m embarrassed so no, I don’t go to school, I show up and walk the halls,’ then we need to find what it means to put that person with tutoring, and maybe some other programs that deal with self-esteem,” Judge Williams said.

 Another concern when it comes to criminalized truancy is the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. We’ll take a look at that side of the issue next weekend during PBS NewsHour.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour weekend, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30. This story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. Lydia De La Garza is a member of our American Graduate Advisory Group.

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: EdTech in Spotlight at SXSWedu, Senate and House Pass Key Bills

SXSWedu is turned 5 this year, and at this year’s conference everyone was buzzing about education technology. One session, hosted by EdTech Action Founder and CEO Scott Lipton and Manor ISD Chief Academic Officer Debbie Hester, brought together educators, developers, and people from education businesses, to figure out how to put more “ed” into EdTech. We take you inside the room on Saturday during PBS NewsHour Weekend – and in the video above.

Hester told us Manor ISD is proud to have a 1:1 student-to-iPad ratio in its schools. But, she said, there are different levels of implementation depending on the class and the teacher, which is something she’d like to see improved upon.

“There are sometimes things that are purchased for teachers and then we’re saying ‘Here you go, go and implement it.’ And if we don’t give the professional development, the opportunities to be able to say this is how it’s going to impact your [teaching] then there is a little bit of frustration,” Hester said. “That’s why today was so important to me because I learned ways to break down those barriers.”

Lipton’s group hosts the third largest EdTech meetup in the world here in Austin. The session at SXSWedu allowed more networking among people from across the country.

“There is no good technology without good implementation and good teachers,” Lipton said. “The outcome of this is for everyone to stop talking and take action around it. We all made commitments to take these things out into the world, to stay in touch with each other, and try to make some of these things happen.”

Our Sunday story comes from our partners at The Texas Tribune. In their weekly political Roundup, Multimedia Reporter Alana Rocha looks back at key measures which passed in the Senate and in the House this week – including a “Campus Carry” bill and a border security measure. You can find that story here.

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

 

KLRU News Brief: Huston-Tillotson Clinic to Increase Access to Mental Health Care in East Austin

On Sunday during PBS NewsHour Weekend our KLRU News Brief takes a look at a partnership between The University of Texas’ Dell Medical School and Huston-Tillotson University which aims to expand mental health care to under-served residents in East Austin.

A clinic inside the Sandra Joy Anderson Community Health and Wellness Center at Huston-Tillotson, which was funded by a major gift from Austin Civil Rights pioneer Ada Anderson, will open this summer. It will also offer an opportunity for medical student training. Austin Travis County Integral Care will act as the health provider for mental and behavioral health services. CommUnity Care will operate the facility.

There is currently a shortage in mental health care providers and funding for mental health services in East Austin. Partners involved in the clinic also talk about a stigma surrounding mental health in Austin’s under-served communities.

“I think that there are certain cultural issues related to even acknowledging that issues exist. And part of our effort here is to break down that barrier,” said Dr. Larry L. Earvin, President and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University.

“It only makes sense to treat the whole person, and not have the community mental health center be on one side of town, and have the clinic services operating in another location,” Austin Travis County Integral Care CEO David Evans said. “We’re working diligently with the medical school to make sure that the providers will be able to relate to the community.”

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

Texas Tribune: New Statewide Bid to End Texting Behind the Wheel

Our Saturday story during PBS NewsHour comes from our partners at The Texas Tribune. It discusses whether this will finally be the year when a ban on texting while driving becomes law statewide. You can watch it in the video above.

Jennifer Smith lost her mother in a 2008 car crash in Oklahoma when a distracted driver using his cell phone T-boned her vehicle. Smith advocates for stopdistractions.org, a grassroots organization that raises awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.

“And from that moment on – a phone call, a text message, nothing is worth a life,” Smith said.

This will be the fifth legislative session when Texas lawmakers will propose a bill for a statewide ban on texting while driving. A 2011 bill by Republican state representative Tom Craddick passed in favor of a ban but was vetoed by governor Rick Perry who said the law would “micromanage the behavior of adults.”

So far, 44 states have a ban regarding texting while driving and many local communities in Texas have bans in place. Austin’s new distracted driving law went into effect January 1, 2015.

Alva Ferdinand, a public health researcher at Texas A&M University completed a study on such laws. Her findings prove that these laws are “having an impact on roadway fatalities.”

“Not only will this initiative saves lives, it will save the state medical expenses as well as loss of time and work wages,” Smith said.

Smith will be among the 25 families at the state capitol on Feb. 3 to discuss the bill. You can find an extended version of this story here.

Our Sunday story is from KLRU’s Arts in Context Shorts series. It is about Roots & Rhythms, an after-school drumming program. You can watch that story here.

News Briefs: Cyclo-Cross Championship, First 10-1 Council Sworn In

CYCLO CROSS FOR AIR

Cyclo-Cross is a hybrid sport that’s gaining popularity around the world. This weekend, Zilker Park is hosting the 2015 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships. The event is free and open to the public and runs through Sunday. You can see our story about the event on Saturday during PBS NewsHour.

On Sunday evening, our story is about the historic swearing-in of Austin’s first 10-1 City Council.

“The excitement in this city and in this room is palpable, and the expectations are high.  And on this dias, the sense of responsibility is felt and it is real,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the crowd.

“Today is not about the 11 of us being sworn in before you. It’s about the community throughout Austin that, after suffering decades of under-representation and neglect in this building, will finally have a voice,” District 3 Council Member Sabino Renteria said.

All 11 members took the oath of office Tuesday evening.

You can see both stories this weekend during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Saturday and Sunday at 6:30pm. 

 

 

News Briefs: First 10-1 election is history, & Volunteers send books to Texas inmates

KLRU News Briefs

On Saturday during PBS NewsHour, we have a rundown of Austin’s new 10-1 City Council. Most of the council races, plus the race for Austin Mayor, were forced to runoffs. Tuesday night was election night. The final makeup of the council will be:

Mayor: Steve Adler
District 1Ora Houston
District 2Delia Garza
District 3: Sabino “Pio” Renteria
District 4Greg Casar
District 5Ann Kitchen
District 6Don Zimmerman
District 7Leslie Pool
District 8: Ellen Troxclair
District 9: Kathie Tovo
District 10Sherri Gallo

Our Sunday story is about the Inside Books Project. Volunteers for Inside Books read letters from Texas inmates, in which the prisoners request certain books to be sent to them. Volunteers send the books back, along with a handwritten letter. There are more than 140,000 people incarcerated in Texas. You can watch that story in the video below.

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

 

AISD Awards Belated Diplomas to War Veterans

It’s a graduation that’s been years in the making.  On Veterans Day, the Austin Independent School District awarded 11 veterans with diplomas from their respective high schools.  It’s a ceremony that AISD has held since 2002, offering veterans who did not finish high school and who served in any formally declared war or military engagement a chance to don the cap and gown.  For some, it’s a chance they’ve waited years to take.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted,” said Air Force veteran Doyle Hobbs.  ”It seemed like a gift from heaven.”

“I completed my G.E.D.,” recalled U.S. Military veteran Eugenio Gaona.  ”But I always wished I could get it converted so I could have a diploma from my hometown.  Now I’m happy. I have a high school diploma from my high school.”

Click here for more information on the AISD Diploma Award Ceremony and eligibility requirements.

KLRU News Briefs air locally every Saturday and Sunday evening during PBS NewsHour Weekend. 

 

American Graduate: TX Veterans Commission Kicks Off ‘Drop Your Rucksack, Grab a Backpack’ Campaign

Sunday during PBS NewsHour, KLRU’s News Brief is part of American Graduate, a focus on the Central Texas dropout crisis. This week we spoke to the Texas Veterans Commission about their new campaign “Drop Your Rucksack, Grab a Backpack,” which launches on Veteran’s Day. It is aimed at encouraging Texas veterans to use the education benefits available to them.

“Sometimes veterans coming out of the service feel like they don’t have time to go back to school and get an education but fortunately the military has set up the post 9/11 G.I. Bill that pays for their college education and gives them a stipend on top of that,” Bonnie Fletcher, Education Specialist at the Texas Veterans Commission said. “The State of Texas also has a state benefit, the Hazelwood Act. We offer up to a 150 credit hours of tuition paid at any public school in Texas. These are benefits that you’ve earned and they’re there for you to utilize.”

We spoke to Dan Hamilton, a Junior at the University of Texas, who served in the Marine Corps after high school and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. You can hear more about his story, and about the program, in the video above.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Saturday and Sunday at 6:30pm. 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: Inside Esquina Tango and Thinkery Offers Bilingual Storytime

BILINGUAL STORYTIME for web

On Saturday evening KLRU’s local news story during PBS NewsHour is an excerpt from Arts in Context Shorts’ With Panache, a look inside Esquina Tango in East Austin. Teachers Mickey Jacobs and Orazzio Loayza say tango is great for all people, regardless of fitness level.

“I think it’s important of people of all ages to be able to enjoy dance. We believe in health and well-being and dance offers that,” Jacobs said.

“We have people in their 40s, 50s, 60s. It’s good for their health because you’re not running, you’re walking and what is a better exercise than just walking,” Loayza said.

Some classes at the non-profit dance studio are free, some are donation only, and some cost between $12-$15 per class.

On Sunday our story is about The Thinkery’s Bilingual Storytime program. Storytime happens on Community Nights, twice per week, when the museum stays open late and the entrance fee is based upon a donation of any size.

Every Wednesday evening, children’s books are read in English and Spanish by volunteer bilingual students from the University of Texas. Museum staff say the premise came from a desire to bring different cultures together while fostering early literacy.

“The majority of the families are Spanish speaking, or just monolingual and just want their kid to learn Spanish. And to bring those two different communities together in one bilingual storytime is very important,” Sasha Ellington, The Thinkery’s Floor Supervisor said.

On Sunday evenings they offer bilingual storytime with English and American Sign Language.

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