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WTTW Awarded a $100,000 Grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Grant to fund public awareness initiative to combat the high school dropout crisis, including unique partnership with Free Spirit Media.

For immediate release
- May 5, 2011

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has awarded public television station WTTW a $100,000 grant to launch a public media initiative titled American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, designed to lower the percentage of high school dropouts in the region.

WTTW will create an on-air and online public awareness campaign about the high cost of the dropout crisis to the Chicago region. The initiative will include public service announcements, a special web micro-site at, and stories on its nightly newsmagazine Chicago Tonight.

“We want to make people aware of what an enormous problem this is and how it affects Chicago, our economy, and most important, the potential future contributions of these young people. We want our efforts to inspire the public to get more invested in helping kids stay in school,” said President & CEO of WTTW Dan Schmidt.

As a unique element of the initiative, WTTW will partner with non-profit youth media group Free Spirit Media (FSM), which works in a number of Chicago public schools and at-risk communities. Free Spirit’s young people will produce PSAs or short videos for the campaign aimed at keeping their peers on the path toward high school graduation. The peer-to-peer reinforcement videos will air on WTTW and WTTW Vme (its Spanish-language digital channel), as well as the web site. They will also be distributed virally to friends and family by FSM’s young media creators.

“Free Spirit Media intends to engage authentic youth voices from Chicago's diverse communities around this critically important initiative,” said Jeff McCarter, Founder and Executive Director of Free Spirit Media. “Young people have invaluable insights and are highly motivated to create and share original media messages that can promote positive change.”

“Public radio and television stations are deeply rooted in the communities they serve,” said Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of CPB. “Through American Graduate, public media will ‘make it happen’ by helping communities take on a new challenge – high school graduation rates – to create a more promising future for our children, the economy, and the entire nation.”

Despite sustained efforts by local and federal school improvement programs, nearly half of all 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.

The American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen initiative hopes to raise public awareness of the dropout crisis and help to reverse the downward spiral by providing valuable resources and positive reinforcement to at-risk youth in the Chicago region.

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. Believing that youth perspectives are a critical element of American culture, FSM actively distributes student work to a range of audiences. The organization has served more than 2,500 students since its inception in 2000 and now serves over 500 participants each year. FSM continuously strives to create innovative programs and establish unique partnerships that will impact the lives of our young people.

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, making it the most-watched public television affiliate in America. 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: WTTW11, WTTW Prime, its Spanish-language channel WTTW V-me, and WTTW Create, its “how-to” channel. For more information, please visit