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NIU heads back to middle school as sponsor of first-ever WTTW web series

August 28, 2014

Central StandardThe challenges Chicago-area middle school children face when seeking admission to selective-enrollment high schools is the subject of a new web series produced by award-winning Chicago public broadcasting station WTTW and Scrappers Film Group, sponsored in part by Northern Illinois University.

The nine-part web series, called “Central Standard-On Education,” follows the personal stories of five eighth graders from different parts of Chicago and different backgrounds. It is being adapted for on-air broadcast as a five-part, weekly 30-minute series beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, with rebroadcasts at 5:30 p.m. Sundays. The show will also receive national distribution through the World Channel.

As noted on the WTTW companion website for the series, selective admission high schools in the Chicago Public School system (CPS) have a graduation rate of more than 90 percent—much higher than the graduation rate for CPS students in general. However, the spots at these schools for Chicago-area children are limited; in fact, last year almost 17,000 eighth graders competed for only 3,200 open slots.

wttw[1]The web series—the first ever produced by WTTW—is meant to stimulate discussion about K-12 education by focusing in a very personal way on the kids and their parents, as well as the teachers and school administrators working to help them get ready for the next stage of their lives.

“The program will be of interest to educators and non-educators alike as it illuminates both the specific processes involved in selective high school enrollment and the social, cultural, and economic issues that surround educational accessibility,” said Jennifer Berne, chair of the NIU College of Education Department of Literacy and Elementary Education.

NIU President Doug Baker noted that the sponsorship fits into NIU’s strategy of playing a larger role in the Chicago community.

“We have a significant presence in the Chicagoland area through the large number of alumni who live in the area, including a number of highly dedicated teachers, school counselors and administrators who work in Chicago Public Schools and schools all over the area,” Dr. Baker said. “We are determined to be fully engaged in the life of the city and to address issues that are important to Chicagoans. Our K-12 public educational system certainly fits this description.”

DMDIIBaker noted the university’s involvement in the recently announced $320 million Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), to be built at Chicago’s Goose Island, as one of a number of examples of NIU’s presence in the city as well as its role as an affiliate member of the Chicago Innovation Mentors (CIM), which provides volunteer mentoring for university researchers in the life sciences interested in creating startups based on their research. NIU is also the only public university located outside of Chicago that is a member of the Chicago Collaborative for Undergraduate Success, an effort by Chicago-area universities to share best practices aimed at helping students stay in and succeed at the higher education level.

As part of its support of the program, NIU has a presence on the Central Standard website, which provides additional source material with links available to provide additional basis for learning and discussion. Every time someone clicks onto one of the web segments, they will see NIU’s message about its commitment to Chicago.

NIU will also have billboards both before and after each aired segment, beginning with the Sept. 5 air date. Viewers and others can also engage in a dialogue about their impressions of public school education on the website.