Part of the Public Media Initiative American Graduate, Inspiring Special Features Students Who Are Challenging the Latino Dropout Crisis

(San Francisco, CA) – The Graduates/Los Graduados, a new two-part special from filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz (Reportero), explores the many roots of the Latino dropout crisis through the eyes of six inspiring young students from across the United States who are part of an on-going effort to increase graduation rates for a growing Latino population. Much more than a survey of contemporary policy debates, the student profiles in The Graduates offer a first-hand perspective on the challenges facing many Latino high school students, including over-crowded schools, crime-ridden neighborhoods, teen pregnancy, and pressure to contribute to the family finances. The Graduates/Los Graduados is an eye-opening introduction to many of the determined and resilient young people who will shape America's future.

The Graduates/Los Graduados premieres on Independent Lens on two consecutive Mondays, October 28, 2013 and November 4, 2013, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). The program will also be presented in Spanish on the Spanish-language channel V-me and online at The Graduates/Los Graduados is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in association with Latino Public Broadcasting. The series is produced by Quiet Pictures ( and the Independent Television Services (ITVS).
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"The future of this country will be determined by what happens in its schools. It's not just our democracy, it's our economy that's at stake. Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, so in many ways we are going to see a Latino future. We can't allow differences related to language, culture, race, become an obstacle to doing what's in our national interest." - Pedro Noguera, urban sociologist, The Graduates.

Each episode of The Graduates profiles three students who were in danger of dropping out of high school. The first hour of the series tells the stories of three young women who, through a combination of educational and community resources, as well as supportive families, are able to surmount the obstacles that might have prevented them from completing their education. In the second hour, we meet three young men who have struggled with challenges such as immigration status, brushes with the law, and bullying. With a combination of community and family support, each student is able to find a program that helps him to remain in school, further his education, and get involved in his community.

Episode 1 (October 28) – Girls
This episode looks at the special challenges faced by many Latina students through the stories of three remarkable young women:

Just before her sophomore year of high school, Darlene Bustos became pregnant and began to miss classes and fall behind. With multiple absences, her school district finally asked her to leave. Wanting not only to provide a good example for her son, Alex, but to catch up academically and graduate, Darlene enrolled herself in a program for at-risk students in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the same time, she enrolled Alex in a Head Start program. Now both she and Alex are working towards graduation day and beyond.

Stephanie Alvarado lives with her family, who emigrated from El Salvador, on the south side of Chicago. Her school is under-resourced and the ever-present metal detectors make it feel more like a prison than a school. But Stephanie joined Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, which aims to decrease the city's dropout rate through projects like a peer jury, where students discuss and determine solutions for their peers who have committed a minor infraction. Stephanie's grades improved dramatically and she has begun participating in other activities, including a once-in-a-lifetime student trip to help to build schools in Senegal.

After her family became homeless,Chastity Salas coped as well as she could, but her strong sense of responsibility toward her family threatened to interfere with her education. Luckily, school staff recognized her problems and provided the support she needed to stay in school. Through the services of a Children's Aid Society student success coordinator, she was able to discuss personal concerns as well as get the guidance she needed to complete college applications. Chastity recently graduated from Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the South Bronx and is headed to college in the fall.

Episode 2 (November 4) - Boys
This episode profiles three young Latinos who have overcome enormous challenges, through the help of family, friends and community organizations, en route to completing their education:

Eduardo Corona's parents moved to San Diego from Mexico to ensure that their children would get a good education. But because both parents worked long hours, Eduardo and his siblings were often unsupervised and soon fell into a life of gangs and violence. Luckily, Eduardo met Chris Yanov, founder of Reality Changers, a college-prep organization that turned his life around. When Eduardo was arrested, and facing six years in prison, Chris stood by him and challenged him to focus on his schoolwork. As a result, Eduardo went on to college. Now he's a Reality Changers counselor himself, serving as a role model and helping others turn their lives around.

Gustavo Madrigal of Griffin, Georgia started school in the U.S. in fifth grade, after being brought from Mexico by his undocumented parents. They emphasized academics and set high standards, but Gustavo's undocumented status presented serious barriers when the time came to apply to college. He became a DREAM Act activist and enrolled in Freedom University, which offers courses to prepare undocumented students for college work and helps them to apply and find scholarships.

Juan Bernabe came to Lawrence, Massachusetts from the Dominican Republic with his mother at age 11. In his freshman year, he came out as gay. Feeling isolated and discouraged, Juan was on the verge of dropping out but the performing arts kept him in school, giving him the means to express himself and gain confidence. It also helped him academically, since students in the program must keep their grades up in order to perform. Juan choreographed a prize-winning foxtrot in the dance competition and found another outlet for his creativity as a writer for the student-run newspaper.

Additional Participants in The Graduates/Los Graduados

Richard Blanco is a Cuban-American poet and teacher. He was the first Latino, the first openly gay person, and, at 44, the youngest to be selected as the U.S. inaugural poet.

Julian Castro is the mayor of San Antonio, Texas. His mother was a community activist who inspired his dedication to public service and encouraged him to pursue higher education. Castro is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School.

Angie Cruz is a Dominican-American novelist who grew up in the Washington Heights section of New York City. Her novels are Soledad (2001) and Let It Rain Coffee (2005). She teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh.

Patricia Gándara is Research Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences at UCLA and a commissioner on President Obama's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Maria Teresa Kumar is the founding president and CEO of Voto Latino and an Emmy nominated contributor with MSNBC.

Pedro Noguera is the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University.

Angy Rivera is a Colombian-born college student who writes the first and only undocumented immigrant advice column, "Ask Angy," for the New York State Youth Leadership Council.

Luis J. Rodriguez is a poet, novelist, journalist, critic, and columnist. His work has won several awards, and he is recognized as a major figure of contemporary Chicano literature.

Claudio Sanchez, a former elementary and middle school teacher, is the education correspondent for NPR.

Wilmer Valderrama was born in Miami to Colombian and Venezuelan parents and raised between Venezuela and the United States. Best known for the hit sitcom, That 70's Show, Valderrama has been a vocal advocate for the Latino community and Latino youth in particular through organizations such as Voto Latino.

Antonio Villaraigosa is mayor of Los Angeles (2005-2013) and himself a former high school dropout.

• For the first time, America is on track to meet the national goal of 90% graduation rate by 2020. Equally significant, the improvements between 2006 and 2010 were driven largely by a 10.4 percentage point increase in the graduation rate of Hispanic students and a 6.9 percentage point increase among African American students.
• According to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2011 only 14% of Hispanic 16- to 24-year-olds were classified as high school dropouts, half the level in 2000 (28%). But as the study points out, "despite the narrowing of some of these long-standing educational attainment gaps, Latinos continue to lag whites in a number of key higher education measures. Young Latino college students are less likely than their white counterparts to enroll in a four-year college (56% versus 72%), they are less likely to attend a selective college, less likely to be enrolled in college full time, and less likely to complete a bachelor's degree.
• Even with these gains, America still loses about one out of five young people to the dropout crisis each year.
• Every year, nearly one million school-aged children in the US do not graduate high school with their peers.
• Raising the graduation rate in 2011 to 90% would have increased the GDP by $6.6 billion.
• High school graduates are more likely to be employed, make higher taxable incomes, and generate jobs than those without a high school diploma.
• Graduates are less likely to engage in criminal behavior or receive social services.
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Bernardo Ruiz (Series Director & Executive Producer) is a writer and documentary filmmaker. He founded Quiet Pictures in 2007 to produce independent documentary projects at the intersection of journalism and film. He is the director/producer of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Roberto Clemente (PBS, 2008), winner of the NCLR ALMA Award for Outstanding Made for Television Documentary. Most recently, he directed and produced Reportero (POV, 2013) a gripping look in to the world of Mexican journalists who cover organized crime and political corruption. Roger Ebert called it a "potent documentary." Before starting Quiet Pictures, Ruiz worked as a journeyman director/producer for a variety of media outlets, including PBS, National Geographic, Planet Green and MTV, among others. He was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and grew up in Brooklyn. He studied documentary photography with Joel Sternfeld at Sarah Lawrence College. Before embarking on a career in documentary, he taught as an artist-in-residence in New York City public schools through Learning through an Expanded Arts Program (L.E.A.P.). He grew up in a household where education was a frequent topic of conversation — his mother has been a teacher of high-school Spanish for nearly 40 years.

Pamela Aguilar (Producer) is an award-winning documentary producer who most recently co-produced the Emmy-nominated film, The Longoria Affair (Independent Lens) and produced two hours of Latin Music USA, the nationally acclaimed four-hour PBS series. Other credits include an investigative documentary on public school education for the Emmy Award- winning series, CNN Presents and national PBS projects such as God in America, Beyond Brown, Matters of Race, and FRONTLINE. She is a graduate of New School University and is a Master's Candidate at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.

Katia Maguire(Producer) has worked in public media and on documentaries for the past decade. Before joining QUIET PICTURES, Katia worked with veteran and award winning journalist Bill Moyers on his new public affairs show Moyers & Company as an associate producer, a position she also held at Bill Moyers Journal. Katia was the senior associate producer for the five-part PBS documentary series Women, War & Peace and served as co-producer on Quest for Honor, an independent documentary centering on violence against women in the Kurdish region of Iraq. She graduated from the University of Virginia where she majored in foreign affairs and Latin American Studies.

About Latino Public Broadcasting
Latino Public Broadcasting is the leader in the development, production, acquisition and distribution of non-commercial educational and cultural media that is representative of Latino people, or addresses issues of particular interest to Latino Americans. These programs are produced for dissemination to public broadcasting stations and other public telecommunication entities. Latino Public Broadcasting provides a voice to the diverse Latino community throughout the United States and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

About American Graduate
American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen is helping local communities identify and implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis. American Graduate demonstrates public media's commitment to education and its deep roots in every community it serves. Beyond providing programming that educates, informs and inspires, public radio and television stations — locally owned and operated — are an important resource in helping to address critical issues, such as the dropout rate. In addition to national programming, more than 75 public radio and television stations in 33 states have launched on-the-ground efforts working with community and at risk youth to keep students on-track to high school graduation. More than 1000 partnerships have been formed locally through American Graduate, and CPB is working with Alma and Colin Powell's America's Promise Alliance and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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.

About Independent Lens
Independent Lens is an Emmy® Award-winning weekly series airing on PBS. The acclaimed anthology series features documentaries united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement, and unflinching visions of independent filmmakers. Presented by Independent Television Service (ITVS), the series is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding from PBS and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The senior series producer is Lois Vossen. More information at Join Independent Lens on Facebook at

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