Meet American Graduate Champions who are making a difference

An American Graduate Champion commits his or her time, skills and resources to make sure young people succeed.

Meet five people who are doing just that here in the Nashville area:

Carol Cubillo-Seals started a fundraising drive to provide college scholarships to Latino students who graduate high school.

Dr. Ron Woodard is making an impact on college opportunities for students at Maplewood High School, where he is principal.

Dr. Deborah Smith is a middle school math teacher who serves as a mentor and role model to girls interested in STEM classes and careers.

Khalat Hama is a Kurdish Achievers volunteer who encourages Kurdish youth, especially girls, to stay in school.

Paul Andrews is a volunteer ESL teacher who works with students of Karen refugee families in Smyrna, Tennessee.

We’ve featured each of these American Graduate Champions in a short video; watch all five videos here.

Do you know an American Graduate Champion? Click to nominate yourself or someone else to Become a Champion.



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What will our next ‘American Graduate’ documentary be about?




What will NPT’s third documentary for the “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen” project be about? That’s up to you because the topic will come from members of the local community.

Jo Ann Scalf, NPT’s Senior Director of Education & Community Engagement, is currently holding community engagement discussions with parent groups, educators and other members of the community to discover their thoughts on education. In the discussions, Scalf asks general and open-ended questions in order to jump-start, but not direct, the conversation.

“People start talking about things they care about” and they began to reveal the challenges and aspirations of trying to educate the community’s children, Scalf said. The sessions—usually with established groups who already hold regular meetings—are confidential and off-the-record.

Producers will use the insight gained from Scalf’s meetings when determining the focus of NPT’s next “American Graduate” documentary. At that point, the process starts again as the producers begin in-depth research on the chosen topic.

Keep watching and reading for details on NPT’s “American Graduate” projects.


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East Nashville parents at a January 2015 meeting.

Elaine Fahrner Remembered as a Champion for Graduation

NPT mourns the passing of Elaine Fahrner, who was an original American Graduate Champion. She was a dedicated and determined advocate for every student and saw great potential in everyone.  NPT was privileged to partner with her on the American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen initiative, focusing on improving the graduation rate—a passion of Elaine’s.  Her example will continue to inspire and motivate us all.

Elaine was featured in her role as Principal of the Academy at Old Cockrill in one of NPT’s Southern Education Desk Reports, for her work getting her students through to graduation. See link below.

Posted in American Graduate NPT Reports by Kevin Crane. No Comments

Staggering Domestic Violence Stats from Latest NPT Reports Special | Premieres March 29


Our latest public affairs documentary, NPT Reports: Domestic Violence: Living in Fear, premieres Friday, March 29 at 8:00. Here are some staggering statistics from the show. Please consider sharing this graphic. If you or someone you know has questions or is a victim of domestic violence, please call the Domestic Violence 24-hour Crisis & Information Hotline: 615-242-1199 or 800-334-4628.

Domestic Violence Statistics



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Posted in Domestic Violence by Kevin Crane. 2 Comments

NPT Reports: Education Leaders Talk School Safety at Statewide Summit

State leaders and school officials across Tennessee gathered this week to weigh in on a pressing issue in wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting—how can we make schools safer?

“I am a father of a second grade teacher and when I heard the stories about the teachers huddled in classrooms with their kids, like any other parent I picture my daughter huddling there with her eight and nine year olds. And so the discussion becomes particularly relevant and personal for all of us,” Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said to attendees at the school safety summit.

“Tell me from what you do, everyday, what are the things that we can do that will make a difference?”

The audience was made up of representatives of more than 120 school districts. They shared best practices and heard from state agencies including mental health officials, emergency management, and homeland security.

“The governor’s message is that all of our schools have continuously been working on our security protocols but this is a time to improve…It’s our responsibility to really look at our security plans and really work on making adjustments,” said Tony Majors, Assistant Superintendant of Student Services for Metro Nashville Public Schools .

And thoughts on what adjustments should be made vary. There have been talks in Tennessee to introduce legislation that would require all schools to have an armed staff member of some kind. Governor Haslam says he will review the legislation when it is introduced, but for now, is looking at other options.

“I don’t think the answer for us is necessarily to rush in and say, well we’re going to put SROs [school resource officers] everywhere. I actually met with the sheriff’s office last week and we talked about that and they said you know our problem with that is, when we come to a school we’re looking for the adult with the weapon. And now our folks coming in we have an issue, they’re not just looking for ‘here’s the guy with the gun, that’s the bad guy’, it’s a little bit more difficult for them. So I think there’s questions in my mind about how practical that would be,” said Haslam.

Metro Nashville Public Schools has already gotten the ball rolling on increasing security measures in schools, including placing surveillance cameras in all elementary schools, installing standard locking mechanisms on all classroom doors, and requiring stricter identification procedures for visitors.

Governor Haslam also shared parts of his budget proposal for the coming year, which includes 34 million dollars towards capital improvements in schools across the state. This money can be used towards increased security but that will be left up to individual school districts to decide.

NPT Reports: Graduation by the Numbers

NPT Breaks Down the Graduation Numbers in New American Graduate Special

Half-hour documentary looks at “Graduation by the Numbers;” part of national “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen” initiative.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Nashville Public Television (NPT-Channel 8)  takes an in-depth look at efforts in Nashville to keep students in school until they graduate in “NPT Reports: Graduation by the Numbers,” premiering Thursday, January 24 at 9:00 p.m. The documentary is part of the national “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen” initiative.

In Nashville Public Schools in 2012, one in 11 students dropped out — 8.8 percent — which is almost four times the previous year’s dropout rate. But a student counted as a dropout is not necessarily someone who does not graduate. The result is that the graduation rate can go up—even as the rate of dropouts goes up.The NPT report, produced and narrated by LaTonya Turner, looks at why the numbers for graduates and those for dropouts often don’t add up.

“The numbers can be confusing and in some cases misrepresentative of who is graduating and who is not,” says Turner.

Nashville school officials have taken the lead in Tennessee by looking for ways to make student data more useful, accurate, and accessible, with the goal of spotting students in trouble before they show up in school reports or drop out altogether. The main risk factors for students dropping out are: attendance, academic performance, and behavior. Using a new online digital system for tracking individual student data called the Data Dashboard, Nashville educators can now pinpoint and trace the risk factors and intervene with the student early enough to prevent failure. They are finding that high school may be too late; the risk in many cases begins in middle school or even earlier.

Nashville’s new middle school bridge program was begun to specifically start honing in on earlier for students at risk of dropping out. Simultaneously, some Nashville high schools are now aggressively working to retain the students who might have slipped through but are starting to slip off the path to graduation..” to graduation. A good example is McGavock High School, the largest school in Nashville, which was among the first to embrace the Data Dashboard as a tool – from the office to students in the classroom. It’s part of McGavock’s aggressive effort to turn around a dismal performance record.

Following Nashville’s lead, Tennessee education officials are on the cusp of launching a statewide online data tracking system. The goal is to help educators more effectively identify and reach out to individual students with strategies and support that address their specific risk factors for dropping out before graduation.

“Graduation by the Numbers” is the second in a series of public affairs documentary by NPT as part of its role in the nationa; Corporation for Public Broadcating (CPB) initiative “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen.” The first was “NPT Reports: Translating the Dream,”  an in-depth look at the graduation rate among ELL and immigrant students in Tennessee; the challenges they face that can prevent them from graduating on time; how schools and teachers are trying to address this increasingly demanding need; and how all of us are impacted when students drop out of school. It is available for free online viewing now at

About Nashville Public Television
Nashville  Public Television is available free and over the air to nearly 2.4  million people throughout the Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky  viewing area, and is watched by more than 600,000 households every week.  The mission of NPT is to provide, through the power of traditional  television and interactive telecommunications, high quality educational,  cultural and civic experiences that address issues and concerns of the  people of the Nashville region, and which thereby help improve the lives  of those we serve.

About American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen
American  Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen is helping local communities identify  and implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis. American  Graduate demonstrates public media’s commitment to education and its  deep roots in every community it serves. Beyond providing programming  that educates, informs and inspires, public radio and television  stations — locally owned and operated — are an important resource in  helping to address critical issues, such as the dropout rate.

In  addition to national programming, more than 75 public radio and  television stations have launched on-the-ground efforts working with  community and at risk youth to keep students on-track to high school  graduation. More than 800 partnerships have been formed locally through  American Graduate, and CPB is working with Alma and Colin Powell’s  America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation .

About CPB
The Corpora tion  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.

NPT Reports: High School`s `College Zone` Gets Students on Track

Principal Ron Woodard is the epitome of ‘in your face’—but in a good way.

He’s trying to change the culture of Maplewood High School and get college on his students’ minds, everyday.

“I think it provides students with a focus,” said Woodard, Executive Principal of Maplewood High School in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“At the end of your four year progression we tell kids that you’re going to meet a crossroads, and they have to start deciding which way they’re going to go…And so we try to get them to think about this decision earlier.”

And there’s a lot for them to think about. Students are regularly given ACT prep, college campus tours, and help with writing important essays. Beginning this year, students are able to go to the College Zone- a one stop shop for access to resources.

“It’s a really unique space. Students have the opportunity to go down at any time during the day. Martha O’Bryan Center is going to provide staff members there on site to assist students with college access need. And so is the Oasis College Connection, they’re going to provide a staff member there to help students find the right fit, to help students with their FAFSA information…helping students write their entrance essays. The whole 9 yards,” said Woodard.

The school’s approach seems to be working. Last year, students received 1.4 million dollars in scholarship money—up from $91,000 the previous year. College acceptance also went up significantly.

Senior David Wilson says he has felt the impact from the College Zone.

“If they had never called me down here I don’t think I would’ve really applied to college,” said Wilson.

“I don’t have a computer at home so I really was just procrastinating…I used to play a lot and stuff like that. But now I see like the real world it’s going to come soon. And if you don’t take grasp of it, it will really tear you down.”

Bobby Rooks, one of Wilson’s college mentors, says he sees students all the time who are surprised at how easy accessing college really is.

“Typically what they thought were barriers were just small things that were in the way. Like once they realize, you know they can fill out a FAFSA form for free, and possibly be eligible for thousands of dollars of grant money or federal work study then they realize that this is something obtainable. It’s not out of reach like I thought it was,” said Rooks.

David Wilson says his relationship with his principal has also made the difference.

“I give the credit to Mr. Woodward; in the hallway he see you, talk to you, really just instill, he has a piece of paper show it in front of your face so you don’t get…he says it on the announcements every morning too. EOC [exams], ACT, and high GPA [grade point average]. That’s how you get money for college and stuff like that.”

“We’re helping inner city urban students, students who come from impoverished conditions, to make their way to the top,” said Principal Ron Woodard.

“I remember being a student in high school and no principal ever asked me about my future, my college plans, my goals. So I make it a point now to be sure to talk to kids about their goals. That sends a message that the person at the top is not just a talking voice or person on the announcements, but you know what? This guy really cares.”

NPT Reports: Students Have Their Say about School Climate with New Online Survey

A school’s success is often measured by academic performance, test scores, and attendance rates. But what about factors like safety, drug and alcohol use, and even how students feel in the classroom?

Beginning this year, students in Tennessee can have their say about school climate by taking an online survey.

“The school climate project is designed to really try and get a sense of the quality of the relationships that students have with one another as well as with their teachers and administrators,” said Mike Herrmann, Executive Director of the Office of Safe and Supportive Schools.

The survey includes questions about classroom engagement, safety, and school environment. Students are asked if they agree with statements like “Most of my teachers notice if I have trouble learning something,” “I feel like I am part of this school”, and even are asked to list how many illegal substances they have consumed in the past month.

Robbin Wall, Principal of McGavock High School in Metro Nashville Public Schools, was first in line to try the survey at his school.

“We think we know what’s going on but we need actual data that will actually let us know what we believe to be true is true. Is our school really safe? Is our school really drug free?” said Wall.

“Students a lot of time will be more honest on a computer than they will be talking to me face to face. ‘Oh yeah Mr. Wall, that’s great’ and then they’ll go on a computer and then I get a lot better picture of what’s really going on.”

And what’s really going on may be troubling. According to the National Education Association, an estimated 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.

The Tennessee Department of Education hopes the survey will shed light on the appropriate resources to provide to schools.

“What we anticipate happening is that we begin to build a database, if you will, of effective strategies so that we can attach interventions and programs to specific problems that are identified,” said Hermann.

The information from the surveys will be available immediately to schools so they can address specific concerns and request additional resources as needed.

NPT Reports: Mariachi Comes to Nashville Schools

Mariachi classes are now being offered at Wright Middle School and Glencliff High School as part of the new Music Makes Us education program, a public/private partnership among Metro Schools, Mayor Karl Dean, and music industry leaders in Nashville.

“One of the aspects of Music Makes Us is the notion that nontraditional programs are being offered alongside of the traditional programs in the public schools for the first time. And by nontraditional I mean Mariachi, Hip Hop, Rock Band, Guitar, Country Bluegrass, Songwriting,” said Laurie Schell, Director of Music Makes Us for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Mariachi is traditional Mexican folk music. Teacher Alan Lambert was surprised at how the Nashville community welcomed his class with open arms.

“The community gave a big party to celebrate the fact that Mariachi was here. And in my previous job I had those kind of contacts and that kind of support but not in the beginning,” said Lambert.

“And here I walk into Nashville and the community is already organized and excited.”

Jose, a Mexican student in Lambert’s class, signed up for Mariachi class because he was raised with the music.

“My parents usually turned it on in birthdays and stuff, even holidays. Plus, it’s finally getting my grades up because it’s making me focus more on math and stuff, because they told us that if we didn’t come up with enough grades to pass some classes we were getting kicked out of here,” said Jose.

“What they’re doing with Mariachi here in Nashville is they’re bringing more kids to school every day. They’re coming to school, they’re staying in school, they’re doing better in their classes, they’re graduating. And you know that spills over to their parents and to the community,” said Alan Lambert.

“And for those who have a cultural connection to the music, they come from Mexico or from Latin America, it goes back generations.”

But not all the students in Mariachi have a cultural connection to the music. Many have to sing in a language they’ve never learned before.

“It’s like kind of difficult because I don’t know what the words mean or anything and it kind of gets jumbled up in my head,” said Payton, an eighth grade student in Lambert’s class.

“I’ve learned that it’s actually kind of sad when you listen to it because it’s actually about somebody’s story that they’re telling about, in music.”

Lambert says he is already seeing the impact the class is having on the community.

“It pushes students to go beyond what they thought they could do themselves. And that spills over into the communities. Their parents suddenly see they’re really interested in school,” said Lambert.

“Once they see their students being motivated, and then they come to a performance and they see the audience go crazy—-which the audience will go crazy when these kids go on stage, they don’t even realize it yet—-it just trickles through the whole family.”

Posted in NPT Reports by Soraya. No Comments

NPT Reports: Kurdish Community Tries to Bridge Cultural Gap with Schools

For many students new to the United States, school can be the greatest adjustment. Helping to close that culture gap is why members of the Kurdish community gathered recently at the Salahadeen Center of Nashville, a Kurdish mosque and community center, for an education seminar with representatives from Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“We invited them so they know about our culture. So education both sides—educate them and they educate us…in order to build a strong bridges between the parents and the community and schools to more help our students,” said Salahadeen Center President Nawzad Harami.

Nashville is home to the largest Kurdish population in the United States, and Kurdish students make up the third largest immigrant population group in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Seminars like this have been held before, but this was the first time that high-ranking officials from the district attended, including Director of Schools, Dr. Jesse Register.

“I think that in Nashville we have the opportunity to lead this country in embracing the diversity and valuing the diversity that we represent. You represent a very important part of our community. And I think it is so important that we as a school system adjust and learn how to embrace that increasing diversity, because every one of your children—we now serve over 81,000 children—are our children,” Register said to the packed audience of mostly Kurdish parents.

“We cannot educate your children to the level of success that we would like to without you being involved in school with us.”

While many Kurdish students have already overcome language barriers, cultural challenges can take longer to navigate.

“They take a little bit of their home culture, they take a little bit of their new culture—and they learn how to make that work for them,” said Mary Holland, Ed. D, NCLB Family Specialist at Paragon Mills Elementary School. She discussed ‘third-culture’ children who have a sense of belonging to several cultures but may not be capable of accepting any one culture as their own.

“Your children may not feel completely khurdish; they may not feel completely American. And that’s where we as parents have to come in and help them find their way as they become adults,” said Holland.

Eighth grader Sarwar could relate to Holland’s talk.

“Sometimes, you feel you’re different. You know you’re different when you go to school and you see other people, other races, other ethnic groups. And then when you come home it’s a whole different story. At home you might speak Kurdish and English or you might mix it and then when you go back to school, and your mind gets a little mixed up,” he said.

The different perceptions about the culture of parental involvement can sometimes be the biggest hurdle to clear, according to Gini Pupo-Walker, Director of Family and Community Partnerships for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“It’s very uncommon for the parents to be involved in the school [in their home countries], helping in the library, helping at lunch, helping on the field trip…So when we have families come here from other cultures, they don’t immediately understand that in American culture and classrooms, the teacher expects parents to come in and participate and help,” said Pupo-Walker.

At this event, the main focus was to explore ways to keep Kurdish students in school and on track to graduate.  Muhammad, a parent who attended the seminar, said he has tried to get other parents in his community to be committed to their child’s longterm educational success.

“Not to look to the short objective–to get a child to drop out of high school, to make seven dollars an hour to working in a place and then to destroy the future of that child. You have to be patient to that child to finish high school and be able to go to college, at least community college, so that child can feel he achieve something,” said Muhammad.

“When the child is living between the two environments, and when he goes to school he’s a different person and when he comes home, another person to deal with—-it’s not easy for him. So you have to create that common ground for that child not to feel that’s a conflict. To make it a bridge between them, but in fact that’s hard work.”