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AETN examines Arkansas's dropout rates, resources as part of American Graduate Initiative

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bThis post is written by Tanisha JoeConway, producer of "Staying Power: Helping Students Reach Graduation."

When we take on a subject for a program, we take time to learn what the facts are, who the intended audience is, and what the purpose for telling the story is. About a year ago, the University of Arkansas System Criminal Justice Institute and the Arkansas Department of Education came to us to propose a show about high school dropout rates, awareness, and prevention. They brought with them research, toolkits, and a video about Arkansas's statistics and programs and solutions that can work to stem the tide of high school dropouts. Not too long after that, AETN learned that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was offering grant funds to assist stations through their American Graduate Initiative.

 AETN, with support from the Criminal Justice Institute and the Arkansas Department of Education, was awarded a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to assist in opening dialogue about Arkansas's dropout rate and creating an awareness of efforts around the state to improve Arkansas's standing.

As we went through the pre-production, planning, and taping process, we gathered more and more information. It didn't take long to see that the facts are sobering and shocking. The Criminal Justice Institute indicates that the lost lifetime earnings in Arkansas for 2009 high school dropouts are more than $2.8 billion. Savings in Arkansas health care costs alone would be $93.7 million over the lifetime if dropouts had all received diplomas. They also assert that if Arkansas's male high school graduation rate increased by five percent, Arkansas would save almost $77 million each year."

We soon learned that the intended audience is each and every one of us whether you have a child or relation matriculating through the system or not. Criminal Justice Institute research also states that, "Approximately 75 percent of the crimes in our country are committed by school dropouts. Dropouts are eight times more likely to go to jail.  Over 50 percent of the prisoners in the Arkansas Department of Correction are high school dropouts." They are also more likely to live in poverty. So, how are these services being paid for? We all know the answer to that is through our tax dollars.

The purpose for telling the story is quite simply that it needs to be told and told over and over again until we realize that high school graduation is important to all of us. If not personally, then economically. If not economically, then morally. AETN should be telling and championing this story. It is a part of our mission to educate, enrich, and inspire. Through generous support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Criminal Justice Institute, and the Arkansas Department of Education, we are and will continue to tell the story and bring together people to discuss challenges and solutions.

Now, the question is, "How will you help us save our children and our collective future?" 

Learn more about how you can help reduce Arkansas's dropout rates by visiting the "Staying Power: Helping Students Reach Graduation" website.

"Staying Power: Helping Students Reach Graduation" airs Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m.