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The groundbreaking digital series, which premiered on YouTube, follows five local eighth graders through the competitive selective enrollment high school application process

For immediate release
Chicago, IL - August 27, 2014

Airing on WTTW11 beginning Friday, September 5 at 7:30 pm

Central Standard: On Education®, the groundbreaking local web series, will air on WTTW11 as a five-part weekly 30-minute series, beginning Friday, September 5 at 7:30 pm, with rebroadcasts on Sundays at 5:30 pm. The series, produced by WTTW Chicago and Scrappers Film Group, in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios, focuses on education in Chicago and the surrounding region as seen through the eyes of five 8th grade students attending five very different publicly-funded schools as they strive to make it into one of the region’s top public high schools. The series is designed to provide a close-up view of issues important to local communities within Chicago and across the country. Because we often only hear what policymakers have to say in the media, a goal of the program is to give voice to real people in the system – to provide insight into the causes of educational disparities and an on-the-ground perspective. In addition to the television premiere, you can watch the series on the series YouTube Channel or at

The featured students and their schools are:

  • Robert – Creative Communications (District 149 S.T.E.M.) Academy (Calumet City)
  • Gina – Marquette School of Excellence, Chicago Lawn (Chicago)
  • Natalia – UNO Esmerelda Santiago, Humboldt Park (Chicago)
  • Kyle – Walt Disney Magnet School, Buena Park (Chicago)
  • Emma – Wilmette Jr. High (Wilmette)

Along the way, we watch them deal with factors that may affect their educational experience, such as participation in extracurricular activities, challenging financial situations, testing, social pressures, and more. The series will also include the perspectives of their parents, their teachers, and other individuals involved in the education sphere, in order to provide a window to the on-the-ground reality of education across our region. The digital series has been adapted for television in 5 parts as follows:

  • Episode 1 (September 5) introduces five 8th graders and the five different schools they currently attend. Hear Robert’s, Emma’s, Natalia’s, Gina’s, and Kyle’s hopes and concerns, see what they do for fun, and how they feel about school. The drama builds as the highly competitive process of getting into one of Chicago’s top high schools is introduced. Then, each school’s underlying philosophies are revealed through the way that principals, teachers, and administrators set the tone and interact with students.
  • Episode 2 (September 12) contrasts five communities and five classes. The stark demographic differences between the Chicago Lawn neighborhood, the North Center neighborhood, the city of Dolton, the Humboldt Park neighborhood, and the Wilmette suburb become apparent through the five students’ home lives and the concerns of their parents. Then, we examine five classes. S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum is used as a case study for examining different teaching styles, uses of technology, and concerns over testing in the schools.
  • Episode 3 (September 19) outlines five ways to get into high school and presents five of the best Chicago public high schools. Guidance counselors, parents, and students navigate the complicated selective enrollment process in Chicago, which is contrasted to suburban districts and boarding school options. Then, see the best that Chicago Public Schools have to offer as students attend open houses and shadow days, and how these schools compare to suburban and charter schools. The drama grows, as the hyper-competitive stakes to enter the top high schools are seen first-hand.
  • Episode 4 (September 26) analyzes five administrations, focusing on the effects of privatization on five different schools and communities. See how school administrators work to fund their schools, close the achievement gap for low-income students, evaluate teachers, or simply prevent their school from being closed.
  • Episode 5 (October 3) reveals five futures. The story comes to a climax as the students open their notification letters. Find out where the students will attend high school, and gain insight into the stresses of the process, on top of the emotional challenges of becoming a teenager. To watch a supplemental roundtable discussion with the students sharing their experiences in filming this documentary series, please visit

Central Standard: Education is produced by filmmakers Ben Kolak and Brian Ashby of Scrappers Film Group in collaboration with WTTW Chicago.

“We chose to build this project as a web series to directly address the changing ways people access content,” said Anne Gleason, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Interactive Media at WTTW. “The digital format allows the filmmakers to present stories as they happen, and allows the audience to experience the content anywhere and at any time they desire. We believe this approach will expand the potential reach of the series,” she added.

“The series has been shot with DSLR cameras with 2-person crews at each location,” said Kolak. “We hope we have captured situations and nuances in the most natural way.” “The cinematography lends itself to effective storytelling through attention to composition, light, detail, and movement,” added Ashby.

At a time when education models are in the national spotlight daily – with closures, strikes, and privatization – Central Standard: On Education examines how students and families highly invested in their children’s futures make their school choices in fragmented system. This innovative new web series aims to go beyond the clichés that define class and geographic difference between rich and poor, urban and suburban, to provide fresh and useful insights into the contemporary education experience.

Central Standard: On Education is made possible, in part, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Northern Illinois University, PBS Digital Studios, and by WTTW members, viewers, and with the help of Indiegogo funders and other friends of the production.

About Scrappers Film Group
Scrappers Film Group and its award-winning documentary filmmakers Ben Kolak and Brian Ashby provide film production work aimed at educational, business, and socially motivated clientele. The company uses cinéma vérité and naturalistic techniques to best portray our customers’ visions. Its services include documentaries, promotional pieces for institutions, video installation, shooting, editing, sound recording, interviews, and original scores.

About WTTW
The Midwest’s premier public media organization, WTTW is committed to creating and presenting unique television and digital media content. WTTW is dedicated to bringing Chicago and the world together to explore the arts, sciences, humanities, and public affairs across four distinct television channels – WTTW11, WTTW Prime, the Spanish-language channel WTTW V-me, and WTTW Create/WTTW WORLD, and on, where visitors can connect with others in the community and access a full library of local and national video content for kids and adults, interactive features, event and membership opportunities, and robust microsites and blogs dedicated to WTTW series and specials. Each week, WTTW reaches an audience of 1.8 million over a four-state area, making it one of the most-watched public television stations in America.

About PBS Digital Studios
PBS Digital Studios produces and distributes original web-based content. Working with creators from across the web, its network of short-form video series showcases the best of the Internet while also celebrating the best parts of public television. Its YouTube channel has almost 53,000 subscribers.