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Public Radio and TV Join Efforts to Boost High School Grads

Moving beyond programming to educate young children, the nation's public radio and television stations are reaching out to middle and high school students with a new initiative announced today to help improve graduation rates.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is giving $4.4 million to stations in cities where dropout rates are particularly high to raise awareness of the issue and support programs to help students stay in school. Some of the cities in the two-year project include Las Vegas, New York, Miami, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

The project, American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen, is a partnership with CPB, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and America's Promise Alliance, a group of 400 nonprofits and businesses supporting children and education.

The funding will support a wide range of activities including after-school programs, internships, mentoring programs, and working with teachers in schools to help them use digital media, Patricia Harrison, president and chief executive officer of CPB, said in a conference call to reporters today. "The idea is to help young people learn in the way they are used to learning now—to keep them engaged," she said. "Public media carved out a niche to work with teachers in a way that's relevant."

Stations can also use the grant money to spread the word on the airwaves about the economic and social impact on communities when students fail to finish high school, through stories and public-service announcements.

Ronald Thorpe, vice president of education at WNET-Channel 13 in New York, said that public media has a "gentle power" to bring stakeholders to the table to discuss solutions. "We are hopeful that our role in New York will be to convene and align various efforts," he said.

Harris noted that stations will have the latitude to develop programs that are specific to their communities. There is not a "one-size-fits-all" answer and the hope is that after two years, stations can share best practices.

Another 40 markets will receive grants of $10,000 to $20,000 to raise awareness through the project initiative sponsored by the National Center for Media Engagement . That grant competition closed on Friday, and there were 80 applicants.

The Gates Foundation will support the effort through its support of CPB Teacher Town Halls and StoryCorps National Teachers Initiative that has teachers sharing their experiences in helping students stay on track in school.

The initiative launched a Facebook page here.

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