Friday, May 30, 2008

Georgia Students Travel to Beijing

Plans for the Trip
The journey of seven high school students to Beijing, China began at 6:30 am on May 29, 2008 when they gathered at the bus to travel to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The two week journey actually began in December, 2007, when each young person was selected by individual clubs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. In addition to being nominated by their individual clubs, interested students had to apply in writing and successfully complete an interview process with project leaders and staff. Georgia Graduation Stories blog posts for May 16, 2008 and May 19, 2008 have more complete details on The Beijing Program.

Linden Longino with tour guides, Mr. and Mrs. Krebs

The Youth Art Connection is a program of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. Director Rebecca DesMarais and her team designed monthly meetings on language, customs, geography and a trip to an authentic Chinese restaurant to help students prepare for the two week educational experience.

Nicholas, 16, Warren Holyfield B&G Club Asa, 16, Carver Boys & Girls Club

Janelle, 16, Paulding Co. B&G Club Alexia, 17, Samuel L. Jones Boys & Girls Club

Portia, 15, Whitehead Boys &Girls Club Rashad, 15, Brookhave Boys & Girls Club

Cedric, 16, Youth Art Connection

Here are some of the travel tips that Rebecca has shared with these sleepy but excited teenagers:
Don’t pack too much. Keep your luggage light – you will be responsible for handling it.
Place your M
P3 Player in your carry-on. Be sure to also pack all its cords and attachments.
Pack a journal and pen/pencil to keep a da
ily accounting of your trip.
Don’t take anything that you will be devastated if it is lost or broken.

Wear comfortable clothes on the plane. You will be in them for 20 hrs!
Pack all liquids, pastes, and lotions in your luggage; pack smaller amounts in a ziplock bag in your carry-on -- no larger than 3 oz.
Pack comfortable shoes and shoes easy to ta
ke on & off for the plane trip.
Place your mo
ney in a safe wallet, purse, or money belt. You are responsible for it.
Pack a book, magazine, snacks, download music on the MP3 player for the long plane trip.
Take the addres
ses of your family and friends so you can send them postcards.
Practice your Chine

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Defying the Odds - Update from Producer

Producing Defying the Odds

By GPB Executive Producer Pamela Roberts

2008 Update

Four years in the making, Defying the Odds is one of the most ambitious television projects ever undertaken at GPB.

Ten years ago I began to produce the documentary television project for Georgia Public Broadcasting which would become known as Defying the Odds. My charge was to follow students who had been chosen as first graders to receive a full college scholarship by the Merrill Lynch Foundation. Randomly selected as part of the high school graduating class of 2000, the 25 students attended Capitol View Elementary School, located in one of the poorest parts of Atlanta’s inner city. Since more than 50% of this population typically drops out before graduating from high school, Merrill Lynch hoped to inspire these students to defy the odds and fulfill their highest education potential.

My first contact with the students came when they were in the 10th grade, and although they attended high schools across metro Atlanta, they met every other Saturday at the Urban League with retired educator Barbara Whitaker. Dr. Whitaker is a fiery grandmother-like figure who provided tutors, field trips and intense motivational talks for all who would listen. As I sat at one of the student desks that first day at the Urban League, I froze in horror when I realized I couldn’t understand much of what the students were saying. I was a white woman surrounded by the lingo of the inner city, a lingo sometimes described as Ebonics. How was I going to produce a documentary based on the lives of these students when we couldn’t understand each other? At that moment I knew this project would be the challenge of my career.

Over the next four years the students and I came to know each other very well. I followed them all the way through their high school years and into their first year of college or job hunting or jail, depending on their individual destinies. The initial language barrier melted away but it was nothing compared with the cultural barrier. It was jarring to go between their world of the inner city and mine of the suburban middle class. But as I and my camera crew got to know them and to see what they were going through, a bond formed between us that exists to this day. Living in the inner city is like living in a war zone, and my great cameraman Wayne Baumgardner and I lived through that war with them. From prom night to school challenges to the deaths of their friends through violence - we were with them for the whole ride.

As producer I began in 1998 by following all of the students, a dauntless task with so many to cover. Over time I narrowed the group down and ultimately settled on five students whose stories were representative of the overall experiences of these children:

John Finney’s parents were both addicted to crack cocaine and he was severely neglected during his childhood. Often homeless, John was forced to sell drugs beginning in the fifth grade. He dropped out of high school in the tenth grade yet later achieved his G.E.D. John attended Talladega College but dropped out after his brother Edric was killed in a drug-related murder. His father recently died and John lives today with his mother. He holds down odd jobs and writes rap music.

Tiffany Holloway never knew her father and was raised by her supportive single parent mother. Through the federal busing program, Tiffany commuted long hours each day to a better high school away from the inner city. She attended prestigious Hampton University but dropped out her senior year for what she calls “social reasons.” Today Tiffany works as an administrative assistant and is writing a novel.

Tony Meeks is one of only three white students from Atlanta in the original Merrill Lynch program. With an absent father who spent time in prison, Tony was raised by his mother and stepfather. Tony joined a gang in the seventh grade and dropped out of school by the ninth grade. After leaving the gang, he went on to achieve his G. E. D. and briefly attended a local trade school. Today he works in construction and designs websites on the side.

Pam and Mrs. Colquitt

Calvin Colquitt is the only one of the five students who came from an intact two-parent family. He was an honor student in high school and very popular as well. In love with football, Calvin dropped out of Grambling University his senior year when his football career fell apart. But today he has started a successful counseling business for inner city youth which he named Defying the Odds.

Marketa Goodwin was part of the Merrill Lynch program in Houston, Texas but moved to Atlanta in the tenth grade. She was adopted by her aunt and uncle because her parents were both crack cocaine addicts who could no longer take care of her. Marketa’s life turned around in Atlanta and she formed a desire to become a doctor. In 2005 she graduated from Tuskegee University in spite of having a child during her last two years in college. Today she is the mother of two and works as a supervisor in a medical laboratory in Kansas City.

Of the five students we followed in Atlanta, only one - or 20%- graduated from college. This is the same percentage of students from the Merrill Lynch program nationwide who graduated from college. There were ten cities with 25 students in each city, for a total of 250 children who were chosen to be part of the Merrill Lynch ScholarshipBuilder program in 1988. Merrill Lynch ended the program in 2007 and to my knowledge is not doing further follow-up on the students as a whole.

In hindsight it seems to me that this was a grand experiment with one large flaw: the program did not realize or take into account the influence of the parents’ difficult lives upon their children. How can children even contemplate college when their parents struggle daily with drug abuse, lack of education and dehumanizing poverty? Through the course of making this documentary we came to realize that as the family goes, so goes the student. And if we want to help those children, we’ve got to help their parents. This is the deepest lesson of Defying the Odds which first aired in 2002. And sadly, the documentary is just as true today as it was six years ago.

Calvin Colquitt and John Finney

PDF Resource Guide for Educators

PDF Transcript

Monday, May 19, 2008

Atlanta Youth & International Art Exhibit in Beijing

Metro Atlanta Youth Attend
Art Exhibit Opening at the
Millennium Monument Museum

Linden Longino and International Paint Pals provided the exciting news about The Beijing Program and student success:

On June 1, Youth Art Connection's art exhibition for the Olympic Games ("Peace, Friendship, and Goodwill through the Olympic Spirit") will open in Beijing's Millennium Monument Museum. Children from 65 countries (1/3 of those in the world) sent us paintings. Works by two (Rashad Sherman and Cedric Brown) of our Boys & Girls Clubs traveling kids are in the exhibit, and all members of our youth group will participate in the opening ceremonies along with Chinese kids.

Our partner, the Beijing Youth Federation, has invited Chinese government officials, Olympics officials, and ambassadors from participating countries to attend the event. June 1 is also National Children's Day in China.

Check out the place where we will open the exhibition on June 1 - Beijing's Millennium Monument Museum.

You can review other posts in this blog to learn more about the preparation and activities of The Beijing Program.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Where in the World is...

Georgia Youth Travel to Beijing

The journey of seven high school students to Beijing, China this summer actually began in December, 2007, when each young person was selected by individual clubs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. In addition to being nominated by their individual clubs, interested students had to apply in writing and successfully complete an interview process with project leaders and staff.

The Youth Art Connection is a program of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. Director Rebeca DesMarais, provided the following description of The Beijing Program:
The Beijing Program includes an international children's art exhibition - "Peace, Goodwill and Friendship through the Olympic spirit"-, a trip to China in June, 2008, and the interaction with the Xi'an Terracotta Warrior at the High Museum of Art in fall/winter 2008-2009. International Paint Pals, a program of the Youth Art Connection and a part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta's Arts & Cultural Enrichment Program, is organizing the children's exhibition and is facilitating the overall Beijing Program. The trip to Beijing will coincide with the opening of the exhibition in Beijing, China on June 1, China's National Children's Day. Seven Boys & Girls club high school members have been selected to participate in The Program. The Beijing Program began in January, 2008 with monthly preparation meetings and extends into fall 2008 to coincide with the Terracotta Warriors Exhibition. On the June Trip, members will visit the ancient capitol of China, Xi'an, to the the terracotta Warriors firsthand and will then share their experiences with other Club members in the fall of 2008 as field trip "guides" on visits to the High Museum.

Through the Georgia Graduation Stories blog postings over the next few months, you will meet the young people, hear about their preparations for the trip, feelings they have about the opportunity, and (keep your technology fingers crossed) news directly from China during the trip. This group photo was taken with Sherea M. Lloyd, 4th grade teacher at Wynbrook Traditional Theme School in DeKalb County. She spoke to the group in February about her experience on the television show, Survivor-China.

Visit the Youth Art Connection Gallery to view the best works of Boys & Girls Club members in a variety of media and on a rotating exhibit schedule. You will be greeted by P.T., the hospitable Gallery Cat.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Season for Graduation Stories

Graduation Season

From Elementary School to Middle School, Middle School to High School or High School to the world beyond, student accomplishments, transitions and ceremonies of recognition are a large part of personal and community calendars at this time of year.

Click here to view a sample of stories from 2007 high school graduates across Georgia.

The stories were gathered as part of the Graduation Counts! project. Click here for the project website.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Defying the Odds Producer Offers Updates on Students

Thank you to Carol Veatch, GPB Education Manager for Adult & Family Literacy, for providing this invitation. Pam Roberts, Executive Producer of Defying the Odds will share background, production stories and updates on the featured students at GPB on Tuesday, May 13 at 11:00pm. Note RSVP instructions.

Defying the Odds
is scheduled to air on GPB on Sunday, May 25 at 4:00PM.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Helpful Websites

Graduation Coach Shares Websites

Andrea Cheetham is the Graduation Coach at Holcombe Bridge Middle School in Fulton County.

She offers two websites that she is using in her work. Other folks will find the sites useful in learning more about Georgia's Graduation Coach program and how to support it in their community.

Click here for information on the origins of the Graduation Coach program and for a list of helpful presentations.

Click here for information from Communities in Schools of Georgia. This site also provides background on Graduation Coaches plus links to recent newsletters and contact information.

Holcomb Bridge Middle School Media Specialist, Jeanne Auensen, is also a member of the TIE Network. She and Andrea collaborate to improve the learning opportunities for students in their school.

Click here for information on Holcomb Bridge Middle School.

Click here for information on the TIE Network.