Academy Students Will Study Journalism In CT Public Broadcasting Partnership With School
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
September 20, 2011
HARTFORD —— Jerry Franklin recalled two decisions that became turning points for the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network.
The first was delving into national programming nearly 20 years ago with "Barney & Friends" and other children's shows. Airing UConn women's basketball, which became the top-rated local program for any PBS station, was the second.
A third such decision, said Franklin, the network's longtime president and chief executive, was finalized on Tuesday.
The parent company of Connecticut Public Television and WNPR signed a formal agreement with the Hartford school system that establishes an educational center at the network's Asylum Hill headquarters — a "hands-on" immersion lab that will serve as a capstone of the city's Journalism and Media Academy.
Starting with the 2013-14 school year, the academy's 100 seniors will take all of their classes in the new Learning Lab to be constructed on the fourth and fifth floors of the CPBN building.
The teenagers will be taught core academic subjects while learning the details of producing TV, radio and online media, school officials said. They will be expected to create a final media project before they graduate and will have access to Connecticut Public Broadcasting archives for research.
Hartford school faculty will teach the classes, said Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, although the network's broadcasting and media professionals will "co-teach" when the area is in their expertise.
"No public broadcaster in the country has even suggested such a thing," Franklin said.
Franklin estimated that the network's initial investment will be $3.5 million to retrofit 20,000 square feet of space into classrooms and production studios — including $2 million for design and construction to begin in 2012 and $1 million for technology.
The network has raised about $1.6 million so far from corporate donors and foundations. Its first major fundraiser, held in May in West Hartford, brought actress Sigourney Weaver, who endorsed the learning lab in a promotional video. The funding plan also assumes $1 million in federal money and $500,000 from the state.
The CPBN board of trustees "is enthusiastically supportive of this," Franklin said. If the network is unable to raise the entire amount — "a worst-case scenario," he said — their plan B is to take out a bank loan.
Although Connecticut Public Broadcasting has hosted an ongoing after-school program for city students, not unlike other public broadcasters in the nation, Franklin said the learning lab is historic. In a way, he said with a chuckle, the network and school system "have agreed to get married, to live together."
Franklin also viewed the partnership as a business opportunity.
"We live off of charitable, discretionary dollars. There's an awful lot of people who care about inner-city, urban education. … As we look at the flow of money and charitable dollars, where is it going?" he asked. "We have to be in that space. … We think that we've got a unique set of skills that we can offer."
Tuesday's agreement begins in 2013 and lasts for five years with the option of a five-year extension.
Currently in its third year at Weaver High School, the Journalism and Media Academy is one piece of the school system's reform initiative to turn around test scores and the city graduation rate, which is now up to 60 percent. The academy will move to the former Barbour School on Tower Avenue after a $37.5 million renovation is finished by summer 2013.
Freshmen, sophomores and juniors will take classes in that building. Among the existing courses for students are digital photography, TV production, graphic art and media literacy, Principal Sheryl McLean-Houle said.
School officials began talking to Connecticut Public Broadcasting about a year ago, she said. One goal of the partnership is to teach life skills — writing, teamwork and professionalism. Kishimoto also spoke of having the city students "college- and career-ready."
The school system's deal with the network is the latest to be inked with a major city institution. In June, the system signed separate agreements with Trinity College and the University of Hartford to collaborate extensively on city schools.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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