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AETN examines dropout rates, resources in Arkansas as part of national American Graduate initiative

Approximately 20 percent of Arkansas ninth graders do not obtain a high school diploma, with an even higher dropout rate for black and Latino students, according to the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) addresses this problem in “Staying Power: Helping Students Reach Graduation,” airing Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m.

“The high school dropout crisis is one of the most severe problems and challenges that faces America today,” Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) Board Member and former U.S. Sen. David Pryor said. “It is not only a crisis that affects education, it affects the moral and economic fiber of our country to its roots.

“We have got to face this issue and face it now."

Host Steve Barnes moderates this panel discussion about Arkansas’s high school dropout statistics and solutions to improving student graduation rates. Panelists include: Larance Johnson, coordinator, Safe Schools Initiative, University of Arkansas System Criminal Justice Institute (CJI); Cory Anderson, vice president, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation; Sonja Wright-McMurray, associate director, Arkansas Works, Arkansas Department of Career Education; Dr. Leslie Purdy, ESL coordinator, Hall High School; and Betty Ruth Welch, program manager, Guidance and Counseling, Arkansas Department of Education.

The special is produced in conjunction with “American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen,” a public media initiative to help address the dropout crisis in this country, made possible by CPB in partnership with America's Promise Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Every year, one million of our nation’s young people make the life altering decision to drop out of school resulting in severe consequences for their future and our country,” Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of CPB, said. “Through the ‘American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen’ initiative, America’s public radio and television stations – locally owned and operated – are engaging local nonprofit partners, business leaders, parents and teachers to help young people stay on the path to a high school diploma.”

According to Civic Enterprises “On Track for Success: The Use of Early Warning Indicator and Intervention Systems to Build a Grad Nation,” more than 1 million students drop out of high school every year, though the vast majority of students – 92 percent – say they expect to earn a high school diploma. If that trend continues, over the next 10 years, it will cost the nation more than $3 trillion in lost wages, productivity and taxes.

“There are few things as important as Arkansas’s children and ensuring they have a quality education from Pre-K through high school,” AETN Executive Director Allen Weatherly said. “Through this project, we hope to illuminate the resources available to students to help them reach graduation and become educated, successful community members.”

Research by the CJI indicates that the lost lifetime earnings in Arkansas for 2009 high school dropouts are more than $2.8 billion. Savings in Arkansas health care costs alone would be $93.7 million over the lifetime if dropouts had all received diplomas. They also assert that if Arkansas’s male high school graduation rate increased by merely five percent, Arkansas would save almost $7.7 million each year.

AETN, with support from the CJI and ADE, was awarded a grant from the CPB American Graduate initiative to assist in opening dialogue about Arkansas’s dropout rate and creating an awareness of efforts around the state to improve Arkansas’s standing. American Graduate expands on public media’s record of success in early childhood education to reach students in middle school – a critical point when the disengagement that leads to dropping out in high school often begins.

On Nov. 15, AETN, CJI and ADE partnered with key education professionals, business leaders and community leaders for an interactive workshop designed to increase dialogue about the need for more dropout prevention efforts in the state, explore the issues surrounding high school retention rates, discuss what is happening in Arkansas’s schools and determine what action is needed to work toward reducing Arkansas’s high school dropout rates. Topics discussed included challenges, opportunities, statistics, needs, available resources, Arkansas dropout programs and what business/community involvement means for these issues. 

Approximately 80 participants were encouraged to share their comments and questions during the day. Among the organizations represented were: Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Arkansas Project Graduation Commission, Alternative Learning Environments, Arkansas Research Center, Star City's "Ment for You" Program, Watch Dog Dads, Junior Achievement, El Dorado Promise, AT&T "Aspire" Program, Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, State Farm Insurance, Arkansas Public Policy Panel and the "I Believe" Coalition. The discussion is available for viewing in its entirety at www.aetn.org/stayingpower.

“Staying Power: Helping Students Reach Graduation” is underwritten by the American Graduate, CJI and ADE.

American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen is a public media initiative funded by 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.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government's investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,300 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology and program development for public radio, television and related online services.

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