Thursday, April 30, 2009

WBEZ Explores The CPS Drop Out Crisis: An Opportunity to Work Together for Solutions

WBEZ is Chicago’s Public Radio, broadcasting at 91.5 FM from Navy Pier, with a strong signal that typically finds its way through the Chicago area and into Wisconsin and Indiana. Their position as a reputable leader in Chicago media is indisputable, and their mission, to "expand our outreach to the community and enhance our production effort through partnerships and educational programs with local and national institutions" represents welcomed support for schools and non school tutor/mentor programs throughout Chicago, each fighting daily to help students and families in high-poverty neighborhoods.

(Click on any map to see expanded view)

Recently WBEZ’s "City Room" program produced an incredible series of case-studies that explore the Chicago Public Schools' drop out crisis, focusing on students, parents, and faculty at Robeson High School. (You might remember Robeson from the map I did in February that explored "The Rest of the Story" behind the print media report of Robeson student Johnel Ford’s murder.)

The series is titled Fifty-Fifty Project: The Odds Of Graduating, and is chock full of eye-opening investigative journalism, providing a glimpse into the lives of those at Robeson. I highly recommend reading the transcripts while listening to archived stories and interviews at the WBEZ City Room website.

While I listen, I just can’t help but wonder why an alliance in support of the kids and schools, among concerned donors, volunteers, a media leader like WBEZ, and us here at Tutor/Mentor Connection does not already exist.


1. WBEZ (and/or other media sources) investigate and report out to millions of concerned citizens, donors, volunteers, and other leaders…

2. Concerned leaders/citizens say, "Wow – now that you’ve taken me up close and personal… I had no idea! What can we do to help?"

3. Some of these concerned listeners are associated through work or family or friends with other people who can cut checks or roll up their sleeves, but don't know where to go or what to do... they need to be pointed in the right direction before they lose focus and are consumed with more Swine Flu news.

WBEZ and the media can be a liaison at this point. In fact, some might argue the media has some responsibility TO BE a liaison at this point, once they uncover issue.

I understand that WBEZ’s job is primarily to investigate and report, but I hope there is a way to bridge this gap that exists between the moment listeners absorb and concern themselves with negative news... and the moment they ask, "Ok so what can I do?"

I would hope media outlets at least post contact information for community leaders working to address the problems they broadcast. Occasionally it would be cool to see or hear a panel discussion among leaders (with a disclaimer perhaps that "opinions don't reflect the views of the station," if needed).

I mean look at what is uncovered by WBEZ in their Fifty-Fifty Project: The Odds Of Graduating feature... Look at this perfect opportunity to report a problem and partner on some level with those who can go to work fixing that very problem...

In the Fifty-Fifty Project: The Odds Of Graduating series, we meet one parent who is "raising a 17-year-old in a neighborhood where street life looms larger than school" and "relying on prayer to help her through." Volunteer mentors at a tutor/mentor program near Robeson can help this mother, if one exists... if the mother knows about it... if volunteers know about it!

Reporter Natalie Moore reveals that "Most of the incoming freshman at Robeson High School in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood read below grade level," and that teen pregnancy also contributes to drop outs. She reports that "Chicago Public Schools has nothing in place to address the problem. No prevention, no counseling once teens become parents. Instead it’s up to struggling neighborhood high schools like Robeson to figure out what to do." Clearly, academic tutoring can help the freshmen boost their reading skill and academic confidence... and mentoring can support better life decisions among the girls!

Reporter Julia McEvoy explores how "Teenage boys can face tough choices as they advance toward manhood. But the choices Demetrius Davis is making are critical. He knows he can go the way of his two older brothers—one of them is dead and the other in jail—or he can reject street life and focus on graduating high school." She also exposes how faculty at Robeson struggles to keep kids in school and on track. Tutoring and Mentoring can help CPS help keep students on track!

Linda Lutton reports that the Johnel Ford story we mapped in February represents only one of three Robeson student murders this year. She explores the violence crisis and introduces a teacher who "finds himself on the front lines of the dropout crisis, with few resources." Tutoring and Mentoring can be part of a comprehensive solution to the shortage of resources available to CPS teachers and students!

It's just such a wasted opportunity if all we do is listen to this amazing journalism, shake our heads in disbelief, and then do nothing proactive to address the problem.

But we need leaders. And with this in mind, I tend to think it's not enough for media leadership to simply expose problems. They can be leaders for change, while still maintaining their journalistic integrity.

For instance, when exposing negative news, why can't a media outlet's editorial staff mention the work people are doing in the field? Why can't their website point to directories of non profits and other organizations that offer service opportunities? (This seems to be particularly relevant when we consider the mission of community radio.)

In the case of the Fifty-Fifty Project: The Odds Of Graduating, why can't WBEZ direct concerned and action-minded listeners to places like Tutor/Mentor Connection, where listeners can get involved, ultimately helping to create more and better tutor/mentor programs for students in Englewood/Robeson and elsewhere?

I also call on the media to direct concerned donors, however ethically possible, to non profits like Tutor/Mentor Connection... who rely on charitable funding to survive, and to continue their important efforts.

And I call on YOU to do what you can... volunteer or donate if you can... but at the very least, contact media and business leadership and direct them to resources such as my blogs and maps, or this article at the "Tutor/Mentor Institute" that explains the logical connection behind combining adult volunteer mentors and inner city youth in one-on-one partnerships to help kids stay in school, succeed academically, find jobs, and alleviate our common concerns regarding drop-outs, crime, and poverty.

With media leadership, your proactive response to the negative news, and business dollars, there just might be a partnership out there that will make this work, before non profits that have the capacity for solutions run out of money, and Robeson just isn't news any more.

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