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American Graduate Day Raises Awareness of Dropout Crisis

September 27th, 2012

L-R: Michael Powell, co-chair of America’s Promise Alliance; Neal Shapiro, President and CEO of WNET; Ray Suarez, PBS NewsHour anchor; and Pat Harrison, President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

This past Saturday, Sept. 22, was American Graduate Day, a seven-hour live television broadcast spotlighting solutions to the nation’s dropout crisis. WNET and partner stations across the country broadcast the event, hosted by Maria Bartiromo, JuJu Chang, Rehema Ellis, Susie Gharib, Bianna Golodryga, Bryant Gumbel, Christina Ha, Maria Hinojosa, Rebecca Jarvis, Al Letson, Stone Phillips, Rafael Pi Roman, and Ray Suarez.

Thirty two national and local organizations committed to giving students choices and opportunities through in-school and out-of-school programs participated on Saturday, and about 100 stations covering 63% of the country aired American Graduate Day for a portion of or all the broadcast. The event also received extensive social media engagement and media coverage, including an article in The New York Times.

Watch an interview with special guest Michael Powell, representing America’s Promise Alliance, and PBS NewsHour senior correspondent Ray Suarez:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiUmoHYtgp8&w=560&h=315]

Inside America’s Dropout Epidemic: A FRONTLINE/NBC Education Nation Live Chat

September 25th, 2012

Photo courtesy of FRONTLINE.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of teenagers in the United States quit high school without diplomas—an epidemic so widespread that nobody knows the exact number. What is clear is that massive dropout rates cripple individual career prospects and cloud the country’s future.

FRONTLINE producer Frank Koughan and his team spent a semester at Houston’s Sharpstown High School to explore a high-stakes experiment to rescue students from the edge and turn around one of the city’s worst performing schools.

What is at stake for students who dropout? What are the challenges they face? And what can be done to stem the tide of this national emergency? Join Frank Koughan, Houston school administrators Brandi Brevard and Mark White, and John Bridgeland from Civic Enterprises for a live chat to discuss these questions — and answer yours. Guest questioner Rehema Ellis, chief education correspondent from NBC News, will also participate.

This live chat is hosted in partnership with NBC News Education Nation.

Join the discussion below at 2 p.m. ET on Weds, Sept. 26, and submit your questions in the chat window below.
Dropout Nation Live Chat

Mission US: Flight to Freedom Launches Today

January 24th, 2012

THIRTEEN announces the launch of Mission US: Flight to Freedom, the second in a series of innovative role-playing games developed to transform the way middle school students learn U.S. history. Timed to support curriculum activities connected to Black History Month in February 2012, Flight to Freedom immerses learners in the experiences of a runaway slave in the years before the Civil War. Educators and students can access the game via streaming and download through any Internet-connected computer, making it accessible in the classroom, the library, school technology lab and at home.

In Flight to Freedom players take on the role of Lucy King, a fictional 14-year-old enslaved in Kentucky in 1848. As they navigate her escape and journey to Ohio via the Underground Railroad, they discover that life in the “free” North is dangerous and difficult. Players encounter a diverse group of people – from abolitionists to slave owners – and make decisions that affect the game’s outcome. Flight to Freedom helps students learn how enslaved people’s choices – from small, everyday acts of resistance to action that sought an end to slavery – affected the lives of individuals, and ultimately the nation.

As students play Flight to Freedom, they build knowledge of the history of slavery and the abolitionist movement. Their understanding and critical perception of the historical context deepens through the accompanying curriculum of activities and by examining a robust collection of primary sources such as maps, posters, runaway ads, slave narratives and other materials. Students also interact with the game’s embedded “Smartwords” to build vocabulary and historical literacy skills.

Flight to Freedom, like all Mission US games, includes a comprehensive collection of resources and materials for educators. These materials include document-based questions, a rich collection of primary sources, activities for individual, small group, and whole class implementation, vocabulary builders, standards alignments, writing prompts and visual aids. Teachers can project content from the game using a variety of technology tools such as interactive whiteboards. The game and supporting materials are free and downloadable for use in classrooms, libraries and homes.

Mission US launched in September of 2010 with its first mission, For Crown or Colony? The next two installments of this ongoing series are planned for release in 2013 and 2014. In Mission 3, The Race for the Golden Spike, players will take on the role of workers helping to build the transcontinental railroad. In Mission 4, The Sidewalks of New York, players will explore early 20th century New York as a muckraking journalist.

Mission US is produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) with additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Sandra Sheppard, THIRTEEN’s director of Children’s and Educational Programming, is the executive-in-charge. Jill Peters serves as executive producer, with Michelle Chen, coordinating producer.

Friends of THIRTEEN and WNET Salute Macaulay Honors College 10th Anniversary

November 15th, 2011

Neal Shapiro, President and CEO of WNET, Dorothy Pacella, Executive Director of the Friends of THIRTEEN, and members of the Friends of THIRTEEN board joined the Macaulay Honors College in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Macaulay is the flagship honors program of the City University of New York, established in 2001 to attract top college applicants to CUNY with diverse academic and professional opportunities, extraordinary advisors, and a full academic scholarship. Since 2007, WNET has partnered with Macaulay to bring on exceptional students and alumni as volunteers, interns, production assistants, and staffers.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKyHL_wc9Qg&w=512&h=328]

The anniversary event featured students and alumni telling stories of how Macaulay helped them achieve personal “firsts.” “Tonight you are seeing an institution that puts students at the center of everything we do,” said Dean Ann Kirschner. “Macaulay students are an incredibly talented, hard-working, and inspirational group.”

One of the featured student/alumni stories covered a recent highlight of the Macaulay-WNET partnership: a segment for SundayArts called “My First Opera.” Macaulay alumnus Daniel T. Allen, Production Coordinator for MetroFocus, WNET’s local news and culture magazine, presented alongside current student George Kruchinina about the project. During their winter break, six Macaulay freshmen spent weeks backstage as The Metropolitan Opera prepared Nixon in China for its Met debut. The SundayArts segment followed the students as they interacted with and interviewed composer John Adams, director Peter Sellars, Met general manager Peter Gelb and the many other professionals who make opera possible.

Watch My First Opera on PBS. See more from SundayArts.

Daniel began at WNET as an intern and went on to serve as the first Director of Community Engagement for Friends of THIRTEEN. He helped to develop several local documentaries including local supplements to Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and The Tenth Inning. Since joining WNET, Dan has been instrumental in establishing and cementing Macaulay’s partnership with the station. Since Dan came on in 2007, Macaulay has provided WNET with dozens of interns and volunteers, contributing hundreds of hours of volunteer service. Five Macaulay Honors College alumni are full-time employees at WNET.

The partnership has been beneficial for both parties, giving Macaulay students real world experience at one of New York’s premiere media, arts, and educational organizations, and offering the station access to a talented pool of passionate young pre-professionals with diverse interests. WNET looks forward to continuing this fruitful partnership for many years to come!

Independent Lens: A Q&A with Director Judy Lieff

November 4th, 2011

Director Judy Lieff

Independent Lens caught up with director Judy Lieff, whose film Deaf Jam premieres this Sunday at 11 p.m. on THIRTEEN. Lieff offers some perspective on the challenges she faced making the film, plus some updates on what the people portrayed in the film have been up to since shooting wrapped.

Interview courtesy of Independent Lens. For more interviews and other Independent Lens film content, visit their blog.

What impact do you hope this film will have?

I hope that this program will inspire and empower deaf youth and contribute to expanding social images of the deaf community. I also hope that the film will inspire anyone interested in poetry and literature to explore ASL poetry.

What led you to make this film?

While working as a visiting artist teaching video production to deaf high school students, I was introduced to the hidden practices of ASL poetry. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to attend a youth poetry slam, and it occurred to me that it would be fantastic to see deaf teens involved in this exploding movement. My research revealed that few, if any, deaf teens had ever been involved in the slam scene. Also, during my research, I met Liz Wolter, an ASL literature teacher at Lexington School for the Deaf who had been teaching single semester ASL poetry electives and video poetry projects with guest poets including poet guru, Bob Holman. Things just jettisoned from there, and I teamed up with City Lore, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of America’s living cultural heritage, to produce the documentary and raise funds to assist Liz in extending her electives to a full year.

What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?

The issue of translation both for the dialogue and the poetry was the most challenging. ASL poetry is a totally different modality from written poetry. Many of the techniques involve spatial relationships as well as images and transitions that are visual and lose their power when translating into a written or spoken form. I chose to utilize animated graphics to approximate the translation. Regarding the dialogue — I had to shoot with two cameras most of the time in order to catch all the dialogue plus have an interpreter paired up with each camera operator so they knew what was being expressed. It was difficult keeping the sound of the interpreter off of the boom microphone even with if they were wearing a wireless mic. Given that we were shooting handheld and the nature of translating ASL, we did not have the option of putting the interpreter in another room with a monitor feed from the cameras. In some shooting situations, I had to lose the voice of the interpreter and translate the scene in post-production. In the end, I still had to transcribe all of the footage in post to get a more accurate read. In group situations it was impossible for interpreters to get all that was being said in the moment.

How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

Prior to starting the project, I had been teaching video to deaf students and had established relationships with some of the poetry mentors through various other small projects. So, I had a rudimentary understanding of ASL and was able to communicate on a basic level with the students. When I started working on Deaf Jam, I made a point to always have a camera with me and attend all of the workshops even though I knew I wasn’t going to use all the footage. The consistency of filming allowed the students to become quite comfortable being filmed. I also utilized my dance background and gave the students warm-up exercises which let me step away from “production mode” and gave the characters a chance to get to know a bit more about me. My dance background and comfort in communicating through gesture and motion augmented my signing skills.

What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?

For the theatrical version of the film there were several fun scenes with Peter Cook that exhibited the cinematic concepts involved in ASL poetry that I wish I could have kept. However, I eventually decided that those scenes would be best included in the DVD extras or educational version of the film as they directly pertain to “how to make an ASL poem” and not the main character’s trajectory. For the broadcast version of the film, there were two scenes in particular that I would have liked to keep. One scene involves an isolated shot of one of Aneta’s classmates, Wanda, working on her first poem. The scene showcases the beauty of ASL poetry quite well and Wanda’s personality really comes through in the poetry. The other scene I would have liked to keep was a controversial discussion among the teachers in the famous Katz’s Deli about the future of ASL. In both instances, I had to ultimately remove them from the television version because they did not directly relate to Aneta’s story.

Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

There is a graduation party for Aneta’s classmates in the middle of the film that is shot by the students. In the scene Aneta, expresses her concerns about being left alone while all her friends go off to college. For deaf students, school life becomes your second family. Aneta and her peers had been attending Lexington since they were children. So the impact of separation for Aneta is profound.

What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

So far, people who have seen the film have fallen in love with Aneta and want to meet her. Also, many hearing folks who have seen the film have asked where they can take ASL classes. During the edit process, I consulted with Aneta on the translation of some of the scenes particularly her poetry scenes and the scenes with Shiran where the two are signing in Israeli sign language. Five of the characters in the film have seen the final version. I held a screening for Aneta’s family and friends and to my relief they were thrilled! Peter Cook, Dirksen Bauman, and Liz Wolter — three prominent subjects in the film and experts on ASL poetry applauded the results. Dirksen has been key to my outreach developments for the film with Gallaudet University.

What has happened with the people in the film since you finished it?

Aneta Brodski and Tahani Salah (Photo courtesy of Melissa Donovan)

Aneta Brodski – After graduating from Lexington, Aneta took a year off from school before enrolling part time at John Jay College and studying International Criminal Justice. While attending college, Aneta worked as a volunteer and activist for the organization Global Deaf Women. She is currently teaching American Sign Language in New York City in order to continue her education. This summer she was asked to create a poem for Cisco’s online technology news site and Summer Poetry Series.

Tahani Salah – Tahani graduated from Columbia University. She is currently serving as a youth outreach coordinator and member of the Word Wide Youth Leadership Board with Urban Word NYC. She is also a member of the Nuyorican Slam Team and author of the forthcoming book Respect The Mic. Tahani has been featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jams.

Shiran Zhavian – Shiran graduated from Gallaudet University with a BS degree in chemistry. She was crowned Miss Deaf New York for 2009-2011 by the ESAD (Empire State Association of the Deaf). Currently, Shiran is in graduate school studying to be a pharmacist.

Liz Wolter – Liz continues to teach English and ASL literature at Lexington School for the Deaf. She is a contributor to the book Signing the Body Poetics.

Peter Cook – Peter is a full-time professor in ASL–English Interpretation at Columbia College in Chicago and is earning his Masters degree. He continues to travel internationally performing ASL poetry and stories.

Manny Hernandez – Manny lives in Washington D.C. with his wife and daughters. He travels internationally performing ASL stories and is on faculty at the Catholic University of America teaching ASL and is an adjunct professor at Gallaudet University.

Terrylene Sacchetti – Terrylene has founded a company called Clerc’s Children, Inc. It is a web-based dual language development curriculum and service for deaf and hard-of-hearing infants and toddlers.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?

I’m inspired by the burgeoning film scene both online and in traditional settings. Seeing films and other works of art along with the act of creating new projects keeps me motivated. I also try to incorporate some form of creativity into every day even if it only involves a domestic chore.

Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

From the beginning, I thought that Public Television would be the ideal venue for Deaf Jam. The mission statement for public television calls for films that reflect underrepresented communities and express points of view seldom explored in popular media, and Deaf Jam satisfies this vision.

What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?

What I did get done was become a parent during the making of Deaf Jam. But, between the making of the film and parenting I didn’t get anything else done.

What are your three favorite films?

This is a particularly tough question — I don’t really have favorites per se of any category – food, color, etc. My interests fluctuate according to circumstances. What I list today will most likely change tomorrow – but here goes:

The Great Dictator by Chaplin, Amarcord by Fellini, The Fog of War by Errol Morris

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Follow your instincts and your dreams. Stay focused and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?

I would say that the most inspirational and metaphorical food for me would be – the preparation (not necessarily the consumption) of a dinner consisting of wild mushroom risotto accompanied by a full bodied dry red wine, a green salad comprised of local produce, and a sorbet with fresh fruit for dessert. I chose the risotto because the recipe I have is labor intensive but the results are delicious. I chose the salad because I think salads are fun to create. The sorbet clears your palate at the close of a meal and prepares you for the next consumption.

Inside WNET's Celebration of Teaching and Learning

March 29th, 2011

More than 10,000 educators from across the country gathered on March 18-19 for the 6th annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning at the Hilton New York in New York City.

The conference brought together experts from a wide range of fields, including the Arts, Global Awareness, Health & Wellness, Instructional Technology, Social Studies, Special Education, and Whole School Issues.

Among this year’s notable speakers were NBC’s Brian Williams, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of Education, Joanne Weiss; Mayor Cory Booker, and WNET‘s own Jon Meacham (Need to Know).

Check out our photo highlights from the event:

The Empire State Building lights up for WNET's Celebration of Teaching and Learning

March 15th, 2011

Look to the Sky!  The Empire State Building will honor WNET on Friday, March 18, 2011 by shining its world-famous tower lights yellow, blue and red to celebrate the 6th annual Celebration of Teaching & Learning.

This premier professional development conference brings together over 10,000 educators from all 50 states, D.C., and across the globe with experts, advocates, practitioners and academics to help shape the future of schools.  It is also the marquee event of New York City’s annual “New York Celebrates Teaching & Learning Week,” as proclaimed by Mayor Bloomberg for March 16-19, 2011.

Children Will Listen: Q&A With Sandra Sheppard, Director of Children’s and Educational Media at WNET

March 7th, 2011

Sandra Sheppard

At THIRTEEN, we’re dedicated to creating programs that spark children’s imaginations and fuel learning — with no commercial agenda. Our commitment to this goal grows stronger every year. As Sandra Sheppard, Director of Children’s and Educational Media at WNET and Executive Producer of Cyberchase, says, “Our goal as a public media producer is to make sure that children’s screen time is valuable.”

Sheppard spoke with THIRTEEN about creating content that educates, entertains, and has lasting value.

Q: Education has been at the core of our mission since our founding. Fifty years later, why is it still important?

A: Our mission has always been to harness the power of television and other media to positively impact the life of our public. We’ve always had a stake in improving the lives of children and their families, and serving the needs of the underserved. Today, that goal is more critical than ever. When you look at the educational progress reports, it’s clear that we as a country need to do better.

Q: What are the educational goals of our children’s programs?

A: Our goal is to create programs that tap into children’s natural curiosity to motivate them, challenge them, and help them develop intellectual skills and life skills. We do that by embedding content in character-rich stories that are playful, entertaining, and addictive in the most positive sense of the word – from the math in Cyberchase and the performing arts in Angelina Ballerina, to the history in our brand-new Mission U.S. video games. We also work hard to make sure the programs we create are child-centric, and are very careful about modeling characters who think and learn from experience, and who make mistakes but get up again and go out into the world and solve problems. We do a lot of research to get it right. The ultimate question is: have we made a difference in that child’s life? Do they know more having watched our series or consumed our online content than they did before? And we’re tough. We ask those questions because at the end of the day if they haven’t learned more, we haven’t done our job. So we’re very rigorous in our research and evaluation.

Q: How do you measure the impact of our programs on viewers?

A: We have a core group of advisors and educators who evaluate understanding of content by youngsters both before and after they watch our programs. The National Science Foundation, which has supported Cyberchase since its inception, funded a landmark study examining the impact of television, online, and hands-on learning, using Cyberchase as the model. Results showed that kids would learn math skills from the television show and apply them online, which is very exciting. It affirms that the work we’re doing is making a real difference, and that a smartly designed on-air and online package can have real impact.

Q: What are the benefits of producing non-commercial children’s programs – and the challenges?

A: The benefit is that we have a very captive audience and they’re consuming content on many different platforms at a record pace. At the same time, it’s a hugely competitive landscape, so we need to be as creative as possible to make sure our content, which is grounded in education, is highly entertaining. We have to capture children’s attention and keep them coming back again and again, which can be challenging to do these days. Twenty years ago, there weren’t 24-hour cable channels dedicated to kids programming. So we’ve got to be better at our game. The wonderful thing about public media is that we can develop a show like Cyberchase, which is aimed at improving kids’ math skills, and watch it evolve and expand its audience with each successive season. Now we’re in our eighth season. That wouldn’t happen in commercial television. Our commercial counterparts aren’t going to introduce science or the performing arts or engineering or history to this generation. So we have to keep producing these types of programs – and we have to do it really well.

Q: How do you develop ideas for new programs? Do you work closely with teachers and education consultants?

A: Our ideas are grounded in curriculum. We look carefully at national standards and are very thoughtful about working with educators to make sure the material is meaningful, age-appropriate, and connects to lessons kids are learning in school and in life. Ideas come from everywhere. They come from characters and books, video games, and the many brainstorming sessions I have with my team. Interestingly, Cyberchase came out of brainstorming meeting where we were talking about Star Wars and how we would love to do a show in which the problems were mathematical and there would be good guys and bad guys, but the path to victory would be mind over muscle. In other words — may the mathematical force be with you!

Q: How long does it take to develop an idea for broadcast?

A: The gestation period varies from project to project, but to get it right, it takes time. You need a really strong development team and you need to allow adequate time for a project to fully develop. If you’re working with an original idea, as opposed to a book-based idea, it can take anywhere from six months to a year to create a bible, a series of stories, some designs, and to really get the ethos of the project. In children’s media, we usually need to find co-production partners and often look to the international community for partnerships and funding. Given those factors, two or three years can pass from the time we have an initial idea to the time it hits air and the web, so we’re constantly in development. We’re constantly putting new ideas into the pipeline because our projects have long gestation periods. There are certainly benefits to that because you can tweak and massage and make sure it’s right before it hits air.  I always say it takes passion and patience.

Q: What are some of the new programs we’ll see in 2011?

A: I’m super excited about Noah Comprende, the first foreign language broadband series public media has created for young children. It introduces kids ages 5-8 to Spanish and premieres in April. In February, we launched Get the Math, a reality-style TV show and website introducing tweens and teens to algebra. Later in the year, we’re also releasing a new edition of Mission US, our interactive, online American history series for teens. And we recently launched our first Cyberchase app ever — and it hit the top of the kids chart the first week. Check it out at the iTunes store!

Q:What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

A: Working with smart people who are passionate about what they do is incredibly rewarding. But there’s nothing like hearing from fans. An elementary school student wrote to tell us that because of Cyberchase, he no longer needs a math tutor. A little girl said she feels less alone when she watches because she could relate to Jackie, an African-American character. To hear that kind of story, and to know we’ve had a profound impact on a child’s life, is extremely gratifying. It’s a window into the world of what we do.

Learn more about our award-winning kids programming at kids.thirteen.org

WNET.ORG Partners with Brooklyn NAACP to Kick Off Annual Back-to-School/Stay-in-School Event

August 19th, 2010

Yesterday, the Brooklyn NAACP continued their 26-year tradition of hosting the annual Back-School/Stay-in-School event.  For the second year, WNET.ORG has partnered with the NAACP to help promote this effort, which was collectively organized by the Brooklyn NAACP, the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President, the New York City Department of Education, and WNET.ORG.
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THIRTEEN's Annual GED Graduation Ceremony Honors NYC Adults

June 23rd, 2010
Judy Fresco (at far left) and Anne McCory (second to far right) pictured with this year's graduates who received their GED diplomas through THIRTEEN's adult education program.  Also pictured is former GED graduate Mary Malcolm (class of '99).

Judy Fresco (at far left) and Anne McCorry (second to far right) pictured with this year's graduates who received their GED diplomas through THIRTEEN's adult education program. Also pictured is former GED graduate Mary Malcolm (class of '99).

Yesterday THIRTEEN honored over 120 GED graduates at the Scholastic Auditorium in Manhattan, an annual tradition for the last 16 years. Among the graduates were participants from THIRTEEN’s GED adult education program, in which students utilize the GED Connection on-air course and work with tutors at THIRTEEN throughout the year to prepare for the GED exam.

Jon Rubin, Senior Director, State and Local Education Services at THIRTEEN led the ceremony. He was joined by Dr. Ellen Bergman, Superintendent of Mt. Pleasant Blythedale Schools, who delivered the keynote address.  Other presenters included NYC Council Member Robert Jackson, one of the champions of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity; representatives from the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education; Jann Coles from the NYC Department of Education; Charlotte Henson-Butler of CUNY; Mary Malcolm, a former GED graduate (class of ’99) and Shaquira Thomas, a current GED graduate.

GED Connection airs every Monday and Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. on THIRTEEN. It is one of several educational resources and services the station provides to teachers and students of all ages.

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