NPT Reports: Transportation Town Hall

How much time today did you spend in traffic? For most of us in Middle Tennessee, 48 minutes every day is spent traveling somewhere–  to work, school, social events and back home. A strong economy, cheap gas and a growing population have put more motorists on our roads and created some of the worst traffic congestion ever in the Nashville area. And just like coming out of a traffic delay, we are playing catch up to deal with our transportation needs. As local and state officials strategize on how to improve mobility, we wanted to hear from people in our area about their challenges and hopes. We opened our NPT studio for a frank conversation about where we are headed with transportation in Middle Tennessee. The audience included people from the community as well as the following experts:

Toks Omishakin
TDOT Deputy Commissioner

Stephen Bland
CEO, Metropolitan Transit Authority

Felix Castrodad
Metropolitan Transit Authority

Rhonda AllenRutherford County Commission District 11

Ed Cole
Council on Aging Leadership Group

Mason Worthington
Transit Now

Sean Braisted
Press Secretary, Nashville Mayor’s Office

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NPT Reports: STEM Growing in Tennessee Classrooms

Once a month, students at Mitchell-Neilson Elementary School spend the afternoon working with circuit boards, connectors, computers and all sorts of technology. They are members of a popular club at this Murfreesboro, Tennessee, school: the STEM Club, as in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
The students work in teams—some using gadgets to remotely program laptop computers. Another group is creating three-dimensional images using computer software.

“For me, math and science is something we use in everyday life, basic,” says Vanessa, an 11-year-old student in the club. “If you don’t use it every day you lose it, so I just want to get better at it.”

That’s precisely what teacher David Lockett, who leads this group, wants for all students in Tennessee: an opportunity to engage with STEM not just during extra-curricular activities, but in everyday class work.

“It gives them a different perspective and a different idea of how they can approach a problem” explains Lockett. “They look at the hypothesis and look at the steps and method and have a bigger picture and can intertwine that into their real-world studies.”

Lockett teaches all sixth-grade subjects, but he has always had a passion for science and finds a way to bring STEM into his classes—even English and history. He also directs a statewide STEM camp program to reach students far beyond his classroom, with the help of several universities.

“So students from the neighborhoods and communities can see STEM as I see it. They can see it’s hands on; they can see engineers come in; they can take field trips, they can see the bigger picture.”

Such efforts reflect a growing push in Tennessee to increase STEM instruction for middle school students, especially girls, who are under-represented in STEM professions. A multi-million dollar grant recently awarded to Nashville Public Schools by the Investing in Innovation project of the U.S. Department of Education will fund a program called GROW STEM, which stands for Girls Realizing Opportunities With STEM.

Many teachers, including Lockett, seek unique ways to interest girls in STEM, sometimes recreating the acronym to STEAM.

“… science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. It is combing visual arts and performing arts into the classroom discipline so students can get a better idea of those values and concepts,” says Lockett.

“We want them to see how STEM is a big part of every career so they can see how it’s multi-faceted.”

His hypothesis is working for students like Vanessa. She has decided to become an FBI agent, due in part to the STEM Club.

“I’ve seen in crime shows they use all different types of skills and work on a team,” Vanessa says. “You have to have a science background and medicines and chemicals that they use to see what happened.”

NPT Reports: School Choice or Chance?


An increasing number of American students attend a school that is not down the street or in their neighborhoods. In Nashville, the array of public school options is so vast, it prompts an annual event called The First Choice Festival to help families make the decision.

“You get a lot of information, they give you walk-throughs, you pick your top 7 choices, send it in, cross your fingers and hope for the best!” explains Amy Rey, mother of 4 children in Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).

Another parent, Robin Bennett, says “It’s good that we have a lot of options, but it’s also challenging to make a decision!”

The First Choice Festival is the beginning of months-long, anxiety-provoking and often stressful period for many MNPS students and families. It culminates in Selection Day, the annual event in mid-January when students learn where they’ve been accepted among their chosen schools.

According to the Brown Center on Educational Policy at Brookings, 51% of the nation’s one hundred largest school districts offer choice at the high school level. That National Center for Education Statistics reports that, in districts with public school choice, about 25% of students attend a chosen public school; 67% attend their assigned schools; the rest attend private school.

Dr. Sean Corcoran is an education economist at New York University Steinhardt School who studies school choice systems– primarily in New York City, which has an expansive and long-standing high school choice process.

“I think that there’s the hope that school choice will be a tide that lifts all boats, that if you have a market-type system where kids choose good schools, the bad schools will tend to go out of business in time.,” says Corcoran. “So if they lose enrollment… over time those schools will disappear. Whether or not it actually works that way in practice is another question.”

Corcoran says in New York City, graduation rates have improved dramatically, but he says it’s not clear that’s the result of school choice.

“There’s certainly research that shows that kids who gain access to their top choice school do better than kids who don’t get admitted to their top choice school. But for every kid that gets into one of those schools, there’s a kid who doesn’t get in to one of the schools.”

Many models for school choice have some degree of chance in how students are assigned. That can be frustrating and stressful for some parents.

“If I have Charter A that does things this way and Charter B that does things this way and I have the zoned school and then this magnet school and I can choose to send my child to one of them– well, in Nashville you can ask to send your child to one of them, but you’re not guaranteed to get any of them!” says Jai Sanders, of Nashville, who has 2 young daughters in their assigned public school.

Nashville school officials use a lottery system to determine which students will attend high-demand public schools. Maria Salas is exploring middle school options for her 4th grade daughter.

“There is that concept that if your child doesn’t get in to one of the academic magnets, it’s really not a good thing,” says Salas. “If you do, Hooray! We really have won the lottery. Give me that over Powerball!”

And much like playing the lottery, some families go to extreme measures to obtain their preferred school, often resulting in outcomes that school choice was initially intended to prevent and raising questions about whether it is the great equalizer for the achievement gap.

“Some families might just see this as too overwhelming throw their hands up in the air and go to the default school. And some other families might invest the energy into making this choice and sifting through all this material—so you might actually create greater segregation by those who have the means to sift through this information and those who do not,” says Dr. Ron Zimmer, associate professor of education at Vanderbilt Peabody College.

“Single parent homes, immigrant communities where parents are less likely to speak English as their first language, because of time, resources, inability to understand the choice process—they may be more likely to push that responsibility down to the child and let them decide what school is best for them,” explains Dr. Corcoran.

“I think everyone likes to have options, choice. But they also don’t want to be locked out of decent opportunities to attend schools in their own communities. Right now, it’s sort of a Wild West. Maybe kids get some priority at their local school, but it’s every child for themselves in a school choice system. It’s a hard balance.”

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NPT Reports: Teaching Tough Topics

When it comes to teaching difficult or sensitive topics, teachers can use a variety of strategies as long as they follow the mandated curriculum. That curriculum and textbooks are determined far outside the classroom.

In Tennessee, curriculum is set by the Standards Recommendation Committee of the Tennessee State Board of Education. A meeting in November one of the final steps in reviewing standards for math and English language arts, which is the current subject under scrutiny. The review team includes several classroom teachers from across the state, part of a new process in Tennessee to be more transparent and receive more public input. For the first time, the public can comment about curriculum standards on a new web site.

“I think this process is honestly designed to take that input and really use it in a constructive way. So I hope this process will allow people who have strong feelings to be heard and to have comments made and the standards to be adjusted,” says Dr. Sara Heyburn, executive director of the Tennessee Board of Education.

That new process might be tested as never before when the Committee begins its review of social studies standards in January 2016. That review was bumped up by 2 years, in large part due to parent complaints in some districts that the curriculum and textbooks are pro-Islam. Local boards, like the one for Rutherford County Schools, have been facing parent and community complaints about the standards and some textbooks.

“My son was force to read the Koran during the TCAPS social studies test,” says Scott Kozimor, a parent of three children in RCS. “We need to eliminate religion entirely out of the schools, or if we’re going to teach about Islam about Christianity, that they get equal weight and a complete narrative of each one– not just picking parts and pieces.”

“It’s unacceptable indoctrination of Islam—not history,” said Jackie Archer of Murfreesboro. “The teachers are still teaching the five pillars Islam and requiring students to recite and write the Shadah, which says there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. No such personal professions of faith are required in other sections on religions, including Christianity.”

In response, the superintendent of Rutherford County Schools encouraged the group to utilize the state’s new online process to register their concerns.

“What you’re wanting to accomplish and the things that you’re wanting to include has got to be directed at those standards,” said Odom. “This board doesn’t set the state standards… We don’t set the test that’s based on those standards that our children have to take.”

Heyburn, who was not with the state board when the current curriculum was set the last time, acknowledges the need to quickly take another look at some requirements in balance with all concerns, complaints and opinions about what students are taught.

“Social studies is more challenging and there’s a lot of material to cover. That’s one of the pieces of feedback at the state that we’ve been getting– that there’s a lot of standards in these current social studies standards,” says Heyburn. “So not only has there been some attention to some of the specific world religions but it’s also the structure and the content. We want to get some of our best teachers to and higher ed faculty to help us wrestle with those tensions between breadth and depth and come out on the right place on the other side.”

Odom points out that tough topics that are relevant to history and social studies can not be simply omitted because they are sensitive to some.

“It’s most likely that religion in some way will be embedded in social studies from elementary school through college,” says Odom. “The key is that it’s presented in a historic manner that is not trying to proselytize or bring students to one religion or the other.”

“Certainly at the state level we can’t control every micro-decision that every teacher in the state is making,” adds Heyburn. “What we can do is create a solid bedrock for the standards which are the basis of their instructional decisions. That’s ultimately what you want is for students to think deeply, wrestle with topics and make their own decisions about how they feel about the world.”

‘Aging Matters: Healthy Aging’ Premieres Thursday, Nov. 19

Aging is inevitable; the secret is to do so as healthily as possible and to learn to manage the changes aging brings. “Aging Matters: Healthy Aging,” the sixth documentary in Nashville Public Television’s NPT Reports: Aging Matters series, explores the pursuit of health and well-being as we age.

HealthyAging MantleTitle“Aging Matters: Healthy Aging” premieres Thursday, November 19, at 8 p.m. and will be followed by a discussion recorded earlier in our studio with panelists Janet Jernigan, executive director of FiftyForward; Carol Orsborn, co-author of The Spirituality of Age: A Seeker’s Guide to Growing Older; and William M. Petrie, M.D., director of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Program. All three panelists are featured in the documentary.

“In general, quality of life increases with age with two important provisos: No. 1, you don’t get sick; and No. 2, you retain your cognitive abilities,” Dr. Petrie says in the documentary.

Janet Jernigan concurs. “There is a very close connection between health status and quality of life,” she says in the film. “In fact, the research shows that people don’t consider themselves as old until their health starts to fail, whatever age that is.”

“Aging Matters: Healthy Aging” features Middle Tennesseans who are trying to stay fit, manage chronic conditions and remain socially engaged in their senior years. We hear from a 64-year old runner for whom the benefits of training outweigh the pain and possibility of injury, and from a man who found a renewed sense of purpose as a foster grandparent through a FiftyForward program. Medical and other experts interviewed in the film discuss the challenges of managing one’s health when the effects of the habits and circumstances of a lifetime start to compound with age.

“Aging Matters: Healthy Aging” was produced by Will Pedigo, who produced the previous documentary in the series – “Aging Matters: Aging in Place” – as well as programs in NPT’s “Children’s Health Crisis” and “Next Door Neighbors” series.

Additional broadcast times for Aging Matters: Healthy Aging” are below; the documentary will also be available for online viewing on our website,, immediately after the premiere.

  • Tuesday, November 24, at 11 p.m. on NPT
  • Saturday, December 26, at 9 p.m. on NPT2
  • Sunday, December 27, at 5 p.m. on NPT2
  • Sunday, December 27, at 10:30 p.m. on NPT

The NPT Reports: Aging Matters series is hosted by Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Kathy Mattea. “Aging Matters: Healthy Aging” is made possible by the generous support of Cigna-HealthSpring, the West End Home Foundation, the HCA Foundation and the Jeanette Travis Foundation and The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

‘NPT Reports: Choice or Chance?’ Premieres Thursday, Oct. 29

The ability of parents to send their children to schools of their choice is at the heart of modern-day school reform efforts. But increasingly, public school choice has become a divisive concept, splitting communities among those who want students to attend any school that fits their needs and interests, and those who want a return to neighborhood schools for children who live in the surrounding area.

In NPT Reports: Choice or Chance? – premiering Thursday, October 29, at 8 p.m. – NPT looks at school choice in Nashville, how it has evolved and what it means to students, parents and our community. The documentary will be followed at 8:30 p.m. by a town hall discussion recorded earlier this month in our studios.

Producer LaTonya Turner moderating NPT's Oct. 13, 2015, town hall discussion on school choice.

Producer LaTonya Turner moderating NPT’s Oct. 13, 2015, town hall discussion on school choice.

Produced by veteran journalist LaTonya Turner, NPT Reports: Choice or Chance? grew out of conversations NPT held with parents, teachers, Metro Nashville Public Schools officials, education researchers and other stakeholders over the past several months. It is the latest project and our third documentary completed as part of the multiyear American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen public media initiative.

In this 30-minute program, we hear from a public school advocate who says having a choice is causing her to look at all options to find the best middle school for her daughter. Middle school principals discuss the challenges of retaining students when magnet schools, charter programs and private schools compete with zoned schools.

NPT Reports: Choice or Chance? also considers whether there is a positive correlation between school choice and student performance and how preferences for neighborhood schools sometimes leads to division among race and/or socioeconomic lines.

Additional broadcast times for NPT Reports: Choice or Chance? are Monday, November 2, at 8 a.m. and Tuesday, November 3, at 1 p.m. on NPT2; and Thursday, November 5, at 11 p.m. on NPT. The documentary will also be available for viewing on our website,


About American Graduate: American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen is public media’s long-term commitment to supporting community-based solutions to help young people success in school and life. Supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), more than 100 public television and radio stations have joined forces with over 1,400 partners across 40 states to elevate the stories of our youth and the supportive adults that help them succeed. Through American Graduate, public media, with its unique position as a trusted resource and important part of local communities, provides a critical platform to shine a light on pathways to graduation and successful student outcomes. National and local reporting, both on air and online is helping communities understand the challenges and community-driven solutions associated with the dropout crisis. Public forums, town halls, and community conversations are activating discussions between community leaders, educators, and more.

About CPB: The Corporation 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 1,400 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.

American Graduate Day 2015 is Oct. 3

American Graduate Day 2015 returns this fall for its fourth consecutive year. Soledad O’Brien will host the all-day broadcast which airs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3, on Nashville Public Television. Broadcast and streamed live from the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center in New York City, the annual multiplatform event is part of the public media initiative, American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, helping communities bolster graduation rates through the power and reach of local public media stations.

AmGrad Day logo

Featuring seven hours of national and local programming, live interviews and performances, American Graduate Day 2015 will celebrate the exceptional work of individuals and groups across the country who are American Graduate Champions helping local youth stay on track to college and career successes.

During the half-hour programming blocks, NPT will broadcast a series of original short videos highlighting Middle Tennessee high school students and people who work with them. “Student Voices” videos are brief, but powerful because they feature high schoolers sharing their challenges and triumphs in their own words.

American Graduate Day 2015 will be anchored by “Stories of Champions,” a series of 14 one-minute profile pieces scheduled to air every half hour, which will spotlight individuals and influential figures in local communities around the country who are successfully keeping students on the path to graduation. The broadcast and online event will be divided into 14 half-hour blocks featuring a mix of live breaks and pre-taped partner segments that spotlight the organizations reinvigorating communities around the country and illustrate how they provide support, advice, and intervention services to at-risk students, families, and schools.

This year’s broadcast will also feature seven mini-documentaries that highlight the extraordinary work organizations are doing across the nation. NPT’s “American Graduate Champions” videos also spotlight local institutions and individuals working with students to help then stay in school and go on to lead productive adult lives. Click the links to view NPT’s “Champions” and “Student Voices” videos, or watch for them on-air.

More information about NPT’s American Graduate work is available here:

Teens Share Their Stories in ‘Student Voices’ Videos

Nashville Public Television’s “Student Voices” videos are brief, but powerful because they feature high schoolers sharing their challenges and triumphs in their own words. The series of 20 short videos are being produced by NPT associate producer Shawn Anfinson as part of the American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen initiative supporting community-based solutions to the dropout crisis.

american graduate

The “Student Voices” videos are available on NPT’s YouTube channel. We’ll also spotlight one video each week on Facebook and Twitter.

Anfinson meets one-on-one with perspective students – identified with the help of school administrators and teachers – to discuss his goals for the videos, then has follow-up meetings to film the students. “It’s a mistake to lump every at-risk kid into the same category,” Anfinson said. The problems they face are as individual as they are.

In one video, a teen talks about juggling a 30-hour workweek, school and fatherhood. In another, a teen’s career choice is an inspired counter to having growing up feeling judged because of her learning disability. Many of the “Student Voices” kids have worked through the obstacles they’ve faced and are experiencing a turnaround in their lives and grades; others are still looking for solutions – and that’s also an important message to send.

“They’re sharing their most private and personal stories,” Anfinson said, and in doing so, they’re helping people inform their decisions about kids in similar circumstances.

“At the end of the day, graduating from high school is an intentional act” for these students, Anfinson said. “They have to want it; they really have to intend to graduate.”

New ‘NPT Reports: Aging Matters’ documentary premieres May 28

Ask most people and they’ll say they would prefer to remain in their own homes as they age; in other words, they want to age in place. But doing so is fraught with challenges such as climbing stairs, reaching upper cabinets, bathing safely, etc. There are also concerns about the surrounding community: Is there transportation; are there activities and social gatherings to make life enjoyable?

AgingInPlace MantleTitleThe fifth documentary in Nashville Public Television’s NPT Reports: Aging Matters series examines what it takes for Tennesseans to successfully age in place. Aging Matters: Aging in Place will look at challenges and solutions through conversations with Tennesseans facing these decisions now.

Aging Matters: Aging in Place premieres Thursday, May 28, at 8 p.m. and will be followed by a panel discussion on related topics.

In the documentary, we look at the village movement model in Sewanee, Tennessee, where a cooperative non-profit is helping community members stay in their homes. We will see a national senior transportation model at work in Lexington, Kentucky. Viewers will also learn how a North Nashville neighborhood association is trying to fill in the gaps for elder residents. Lastly, we will learn what happens when a family reaches the limits of caring for a loved one at home.

“This latest program starts a conversation that will get us thinking about what is possible and what we can expect as we age,” said NPT producer Will Pedigo. “We can then create the kind of community that will make living at home feasible.”

Pedigo co-produced the previous documentary in the series – “Aging Matters: Economics of Aging” – and also produced programs in NPT’s “Children’s Health Crisis” and “Next Door Neighbors” series.

The NPT Reports: Aging Matters series is hosted by Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Kathy Mattea. Aging Matters: Aging in Place is made possible by the generous support of Cigna-Healthspring, the West End Home Foundation, the HCA Foundation and the Jeanette Travis Foundation.

Additional broadcast times for Aging Matters: Aging in Place are below; the documentary will also be available for viewing on our website,

Monday, June 1, 8 a.m. on NPT2
Tuesday, June 2, 1 p.m. on NPT2
Saturday, June 6, 7 p.m. on NPT2
Sunday, June 7, 8 a.m. on NPT2
Sunday, June 7, 3 p.m. on NPT2
Friday, June 26, 7 p.m. on NPT



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.



american graduate