The Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced Tuesday a new $4.4 million initiative to improve the high school graduation rate in 20 communities across the country.
"American Graduate" will include television programming across public media affiliates to raise awareness of the problem and 20 "hubs" nationwide that will engage communities to focus on at-risk students who are most likely to drop out of high school.
Nationwide, 92 percent of students think they will graduate high school, according to a 2010 Gallup poll, but the nation's graduation rate is just 70 percent, and less than 6 in 10 graduate among African-American and Hispanic students.
[Read about President Obama's plans to improve Hispanic education.]
Unlike many programs that tend to be focused on high schoolers, the initiative will target students in , a "make-or-break" time for students, according to a CPB information sheet. The program is designed to help students form good work habits and develop an interest in education before high school, when it may be too late for some students to make changes.
A community hub in Birmingham, Ala., will focus on designing and distributing teacher development materials and identifying and helping at-risk students who are likely to drop out. In Indianapolis, employees of WFYI, the city's public broadcasting affiliate, will mentor students in their free time. In Oakland, Calif., students will write blogs and film videos that connect science curricula with real-world applications.
Meanwhile, public media plans to ramp up coverage of the high school dropout crisis. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will fund a series of locally televised town hall meetings with teachers called "Teachers Have Their Say," which will highlight problems with the country's education system. Prime-time specials on dropouts and a Frontline investigative report on the crisis is planned, and PBS NewsHour plans to air more stories about the crisis.
Entertainment stars, CPB executives, government officials, and technology-sector executives gathered at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. to announce the initiative.
Ray Suarez, a senior correspondent for PBS NewsHour and the event's host, said the trend of poor graduation rates among Hispanics and African-Americans needs to be reversed. In 2007, the graduation rate for those two groups was only about 54 percent, according to an Education Week report.
[Learn about a bill that would try to improve graduation rates.]
"This is something we really don't have an option to fix—we have to," Suarez said.
Hill Harper, star of CSI:NY, America Ferrera of Ugly Betty, and Aimee Garcia of The George Lopez Show were on hand to speak about their experiences during high school and offer their support for the program.