WTTW Launches American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen in Chicago

Initiative aims to raise awareness of America’s dropout crisis and keep students on the path to a high school diploma. Chicago Public Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard to appear on Chicago Tonight Monday to kick off the program; WTTW partners with Free Spirit Media.

For immediate release
Chicago, IL - November 7, 2011

WTTW, America’s most-watched public television station, announced today that it is launching the Chicago component of American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across the country address the dropout crisis. WTTW is working with public media stations in 20 "hub markets" nationwide where the dropout crisis is most acute to raise awareness and understanding of the issues and coordinate action with community partners.

WTTW’s local initiative includes an on-air and online public awareness campaign about the high cost of the dropout crisis to the Chicago region. The station will air PSAs as well as regular segments on its nightly newsmagazine Chicago Tonight. A web micro-site at www.wttw.com/AmericanGraduate will provide valuable resources for dropouts and at-risk students and their families.

Despite sustained efforts, nearly half of students in Chicago Public Schools fail to graduate, almost unchanged from a decade ago. Of African American males entering Chicago public high schools in 2005, 54% dropped out before their senior year. Over the last ten years, 31,000 dropouts re-enrolled in alternative schools, but only 23% of them ultimately graduated. Statewide, only 18 high schools attained a 100 percent graduation rate this year, compared with almost 100 high schools last year. The graduation rate slid from 87.8 to 83.8 percent in 2011, with only about 30 percent of schools achieving a graduation rate of 90 percent or higher.

American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen aims to convene conversations and strengthen partnerships between public radio and television stations and local schools, businesses, and community organizations – all with the goal of helping students stay on course to graduate from high school.

The initiative kicks off tonight on WTTW as the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Jean-Claude Brizard, joins Chicago Tonight host Phil Ponce to talk about the schools’ strategy to deal with the crisis. Over the next year, WTTW will air PSAs drawing attention to the issue, including some produced by Free Spirit Media, a non-profit youth organization teaching media to high school students in a number of at-risk Chicago communities. Students from FSM have already produced two spots aimed at keeping their peers on the path toward high school graduation. The peer-to-peer reinforcement videos will begin airing this week on WTTW and will be distributed virally to friends and family by FSM’s young media creators.

Another group of FSM students will be reporting on the crisis as part of the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs program, which is also being supported by WTTW. Over the next year, all of these media components and further background information will be available on WTTW’s special web micro-site, www.wttw.com/AmericanGraduate, also launching today.

“Although the graduation rate in the Chicago Public Schools and some suburban schools has improved somewhat over the past decade, the staggering number of students dropping out affects us all, socially, economically, and competitively,” said Dan Schmidt, President and CEO of WTTW. “The American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen initiative is public media’s attempt to raise awareness and convene a civic conversation about the problem. More than anything, we hope this initiative will cause our viewers to take personal action in their own families and communities to encourage high school graduation and an education beyond,” he added.


About American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen

American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to help local communities across the country address the dropout crisis. CPB, in partnership with America's Promise Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is working with public media stations in 20 "Hub Markets" where the dropout crisis is most acute to raise awareness of the issue and coordinate action with community partners – all with the goal of helping students stay on course to graduate from high school.


About WTTW

For more than 55 years, audiences have turned to WTTW for distinctive programming that informs, inspires, educates, and entertains. WTTW reaches 1.5 million weekly households over a four-state area. Recognized for its award-winning local and national productions, WTTW is committed to presenting the very best in cultural, nature, science, public affairs, and children's programming across its four distinct television channels. For more information, please visit www.wttw.com.


About Free Spirit Media

Through hands-on production of their own media content, Free Spirit Media participants build life skills in communication, critical and independent thinking, teamwork, and the use of technology. The organization serves more than 500 participants each year, and continuously strives to create innovative programs and establish unique partnerships that will impact the lives of our young people. To learn more, visit www.freespiritmedia.org.


WTTW Contact

Julia Maish
Manager of Media Relations
(773) 509-5551