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On the air, on the ground

KTOO gears up for local initiative focused on high school drop-out rates as part of national program

Posted: September 20, 2012 - 12:01am

KTOO has been awarded a grant from the National Center for Media Engagement to explore the drop out rate in Juneau and around the state. The local initiative, a combination of on-air programming and community outreach, begins Saturday Sept. 22 and runs through June.

The national project was launched by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of the American Graduate Initiative to bring media groups and community members together to address the drop-out issue and figure out how to improve student engagement. KTOO’s $20,000 grant, one of a handful awarded across the country, will fund a wide range of projects including programming on 360 North, live interviews with local students from our high schools, a drop-in day at Zach Gordon, and a town hall meeting in December, among other events. Another important aspect of the project is two paid internships, offered to students who are returning to school.

The project’s dual focus, on on-air programming and off-air groundwork, is a natural fit for the radio station, said Cheryl Levitt Snyder, Radio Manager of KTOO, KRNN and KXLL, and highlights their broader mission to work toward positive change and community engagement.

“I think that always has been part of KTOO’s mission, to use our airwaves to provide a civic good but then also go beyond the airwaves to actually make a difference in the community,” she said.

KXLL Program Director Andy Kline, who is working closely with Synder on the project, said the on-the-ground component was part of the plan from the beginning.

“When we were talking about the grant ... Cheryl immediately said, ‘We don’t want to just do a bunch of PSAs (public service announcements) that say ‘Don’t drop out!’ We want to actually reach out and try to affect change — among kids who might be at risk or kids who aren’t,” he said. “With KXLL especially, we’ve got a station that is focused on young people already and can try to reach out to them.”

According to a June 2011 report in “Education Week,” the nation’s graduation rate is 72 percent, an increase over the past several years, and one attributed in part, asserts the report, to national and local initiatives that have raised awareness of the issue. In Alaska, according to the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development, the graduation rate in 2011 was 68 percent, a slight increase from 2010’s 67.4 percent, but still below the national average. Further, the rate for Alaska Natives was significantly lower, at 50.7 percent (www.eed.state.ak.us/stats/GradRatesSub/2011GradRatesSubgroup.pdf).

Addressing this discrepancy is one of the goals of the local initiative, Snyder and Kline said. One of the partner organizations that KTOO has enlisted is the Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 70, whom Synder hopes to involve in the Town Meeting scheduled for December as well as other aspects of the project.

Other important partners that the station is working with are Laury Scandling, Assistant Superintendent of the Juneau School District, brought on as project coordinator, and staff from the Zach Gordon Youth Center, among others.

“Really key to making this project work is all the community partners that we’ve been able to put together,” Synder said. “We are not the experts on this subject, it’s just that we have these great resources that we can offer up to help create awareness. Our role is we’ve got this tremendous resource of our airwaves and our connections and our partnerships, and we can use that to help shine a spotlight on an issue that’s important to out community.”

The project gets started this Saturday, Sept. 22, with a full day of national television programming on local station 360 North.

Next week, beginning Monday, the KTOO news department will air three stories addressing the issue on Morning Edition.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 24-26, Kline will do live KXLL remote interviews from each of the three high schools, talking with students.

On Thursday, Sept. 25, from 3-4 p.m. A Juneau Afternoon will be dedicated to the issue.

On Sept 29, a “Drop-in” day will be held at Zach Gordon Youth Center, where returning students can go to instantly re-enroll, as well as receive health and guidance counseling (and free food!).

At the end of that week, two students who are returning to school will be hired by KTOO as interns. They will be paid $1,000 each and will work on several projects, including one that allows them to tell their story, possibly in video format.

On Dec. 10, a “Town Hall” meeting on the drop-out issue will be broadcast live on KTOO, statewide TV and internet.

During March, April and May, presentations will be made by project members and interns to Rotary and the Juneau Chamber of Commerce about the findings from the Town Hall meeting. The presentation will include specific steps community leaders can take to improve the stay-in rates.

The project will conclude in June, with some kind of graduation for interns.

The drop-out awareness initiative isn’t the only outreach KTOO has going at the moment. This past fall the station, KXLL in particular, has also been encouraging Juneau’s young people to vote. Kline’s been setting up tables all over town — at A&P, outside of Pel Meni, at UAS — to get kids to register and last weekend held a Rock the Vote concert featuring three bands at Rockwell. So far he’s signed on more than two dozen new voters. With this project, he said, there’s a broader focus.

“I think there’s plenty of kids who are super engaged and successful in traditional ways who just don’t see why they should vote. I think there’s a broader perspective there on why you count, why voting’s important, and getting people excited about the process.”

As election season continues, focus will shift to encouraging people to actually show up to vote. Also in the plans, a group viewing of the national debates and election day coverage.

Though the voting push and the drop-out initiative are very different projects, Snyder said they have common aspects in terms of their goals.

“These two projects really hit at civic engagement and involvement, and that’s very much a part of our mission, as these public entities, to be very involved with our communities and work to better them in some way. We’re always looking for these projects.”

Kline agreed.

“The mission for KXLL in particular has always been about the involvement of young Juneau with everything, ... So it just fits into our mission, as much as making sure that I have the latest song from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is part of my mission.

“Part of our mission is to make sure that we’re doing events that involve young people, and to keep them civically involved and make sure that Juneau is a good place for them to live.”

As far as music-related events, they’ve got plenty of those in the works also. Next week marks the beginning of the second season of KXLL concert series, held at the Gold Town Nickelodeon. Each concert showcases a small number of local musicians of a specific genre, and intersperses music with live interviews conducted by one of the radio station’s DJs. The first concert will feature singer songerwriters and will be Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m.

Also coming up: Battle of the Bands, Oct. 26, and Zombie Walk, on the First Friday of October.

To find out more, visit krnn.org, kxll.org, ktoo.org or the stations’ Facebook pages.

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