Upcoming American Graduate specials tackle lax schools, juvenile justice system

By Dru Sefton

A pair of documentaries to be released for public TV broadcasts next month focus on two of the most difficult aspects of the nation’s dropout crisis — under-performing schools and at-risk youth.

Tavis Smiley speaks with students Kenisha and Kenyatta in New Orleans during production of Education Under Arrest, one of two upcoming American Graduate specials on the drop-out crisis. (Photo: Gus Bennett)

Tavis Smiley speaks with students Kenisha and Kenyatta in New Orleans during production of Education Under Arrest, one of two upcoming American Graduate specials on the dropout crisis. (Photo: TS Media Inc./Gus Bennett)

180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School will be presented in conjunction with Tavis Smiley Reports: Education Under Arrest as part of CPB’s American Graduate initiative. Both premiere in late March, and were previewed during a Jan. 30 webinar from the National Center for Media Engagement.

For 180 Days, “our goal was to share the perspective of students, how they view the things they have to go through,” Alexis Phyllis Aggrey, production manager of National Black Programming Consortia, told webinar participants. “We wanted to put a face on statistical data.” The story follows teachers, students, administrators and parents of the first graduating class of Washington Metropolitan High School — aka “DC Met” — a public school in the District of Columbia where only 7 percent of the student body is proficient in math and 19 percent in reading. Outreach for 180 Days includes an interactive web-based graphic novel featuring characters in the documentary, and a student film festival organized through the Public Media Corps website. The two-part film feeds at 9 p.m. Eastern March 25 and 26.

Education Under Arrest examines efforts to reform the juvenile justice system and keep at-risk teens in school. It’s a follow-up to Smiley’s Too Important to Fail, which investigated causes of the rising dropout rate among African-American male teenagers. During the webinar, Tavis Smiley Reports Executive Producer Jacoba Atlas said more than 300,000 young people entering the juvenile justice system annually cost taxpayers some $5 billion, even though many enter for minimal offenses such as truancy. The producers are partnering with mentoring advocate Big Brothers Big Sisters on outreach. The one-hour program feeds at 8 p.m. Eastern March 26.

 This story was first published in Current, Feb. 11, 2013.

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