Did you know that over one million kids drop out of high school every year in the United States? When I heard that number I was floored. Thinking of one million young people who won’t finish school this year is overwhelming. The good news? There is creative work being done across the nation to make sure all students complete their secondary education.

The folks at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have just announced a bold, new initiative that brings together public media stations across the country, national non-profits like the America’s Promise Alliance, foundations – led by the Gates Foundation, celebrities, community based organizations and educators in a collaborative effort to make sure that every child in the Unites States graduates from high school.

Last Tuesday, I eagerly tuned into a live stream of the American Graduate launch event, listening for ways it might intersect with Working Films’ own Reel Education project. Reel Education started with a convening held last February that brought together seven documentary film making teams with educators, non-profits and organizers to strategize about how their films can be used individually and collectively to transform education in the United States. Since then, we’ve been pursuing new ways to make sure their projects are embedded into the ongoing work of educators and activists that are closing the achievement gap, fighting for great arts education for all kids, making sure that high quality after school programming doesn’t get lost in budget cuts and – in general – working for educational equity and excellence.

Both Reel Education and the American Graduate initiative are about using media resources to support the existing work of organizers and educators. I was excited to hear that the bulk of the work done through America Graduate will be community based. Through grants provided by the initiative, local public radio and television stations in 20 community hubs will partner with local organizations and schools to engage parents, students, teachers, and others in unique programs designed to lower the drop-out rate in their area. With Reel Education we are also looking to organizations who are leading the charge in the world of education to guide our ideas about how film and new media projects can be put to use. Organizations such as Teaching Tolerance, ASCD, PICO California, Teachers College, and the National Education Association are telling us exactly what kind of media they need and how they can put it to work.

It takes a concentrated effort over the long haul to achieve change. During a panel conversation at the American Graduate launch event, Nashville Public Television President and CEO Beth Curley said, “We have been working on substantive, multi-year projects; rather than doing one documentary or one small project on something….” She went on to speak about how they will use their grant funding from CPB to expand their ongoing work related to new immigrants and multilingualism in several local schools. Her description echoes our approach with Reel Education and the other thematic work we’ve been doing lately. Social change doesn’t happen over night or with just one event or action; so the idea is to employ multiple pieces of media in service of education reformers in creative ways. That’s evident in the fact that the collection of films included in Reel Education includes documentaries that are completed and some that are still in production and slated for release in the next couple of years.

With so many points of intersection with our Reel Education project I am energized and inspired by the launch of the American Graduate initiative. Congratulations to the folks at CPB, America’s Promise Alliance, the Gates Foundation and all of their allies on launching this amazing effort!

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