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'Think It Up' Education Special Aims to Showcase Larger Initiative

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Producers of a one-hour education special airing on four broadcast TV networks Friday night hope the initiative stemming from the project has legs.

The "Think It Up" special airs at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times (7 p.m. Central) on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox.

The special, backed by the Entertainment Industry Foundation, had a slate of stars attached when it was announced in August, including Kristen Bell, Stephen Colbert, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew McConaughey, and Gwyneth Paltrow. 

The celebrity wattage was turned up with a Sept. 3 announcement that the special would also include Justin Bieber, Kacey Musgraves, Jason Bateman, Halle Berry, Julie Chen, Terry Crews, Jennifer Garner, Taylor Lautner, Joe Manganiello, Seth Meyers, and J.K. Simmons.

Then, on Thursday, more names were added to the bill: Jessica Biel, Common, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, Austin Mahone, Logan Paul, Big Sean, Eric Stonestreet, Justin Timberlake, and Stevie Wonder.

The special, airing live from the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica, Calif., airport, is being produced by Den of Thieves, a production company behind such shows as the "MTV Video Music Awards" and "Pitbull's New Year's Revolution" on Fox.

While Hollywood loves to put on a show, and there have been other celebrity-studded back-to-school TV specials over the years, there is a longer-term initiative being launched in conjunction with the telecast.

The Entertainment Industry Foundation says the Think It Up initiative will begin to roll out this fall by inviting public school students in grades 7-12 to work with their teachers to develop projects meant to apply what they are learning to real-world problems. The projects will be funded on www.thinkitup.org, which will be powered by the teacher crowd-funding platform DonorsChoose.org.

"This show needs to create anticipation for the overall initiative, and our incredible performers and participants are the perfect group to spark excitement with our audience," Lisa Paulsen, the CEO of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, said in a statement. 

The TV special "will inspire viewers, introduce them to Think It Up's goals, and give them the opportunity to soon begin donating to student-powered, teacher-led projects in schools across the country," Paulsen said in the statement.

The supporters of the project include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ExxonMobil, and Staples.

Also on Thursday, the EIF announced that "founding collaborator" of the Think It Up initiative will be the XQ Institute, an organization describing itself as "dedicated to rethinking schooling in America."

The XQ Institute is affiliated with the Emerson Collective, a philanthropy founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs.

The CEO of the XQ Institute is Russlynn H. Ali, who served as assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education from 2009 through 2012.

"We are excited to partner with EIF to help put the needs of young people and their teachers front and center in the nation's consciousness," Ali, who is also the managing director of the Emerson Collective's education fund, said in a statement. "Think It Up is a galvanizing leap into a new era, drawing on all of us to support every student in America."

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