In an effort to help change the course of America’s dropout crisis – which results in 1 million U.S. high school students dropping out every year – MTV will premiere a new documentary on May 9th at 8:30 PM ET/PT entitled: “The Dropout Chronicles.”
The documentary depicts a stark portrait of three high school students who face unique obstacles and are all on the brink of walking away from their high school diplomas. The program documents how young people from similar backgrounds make different choices about their education and how varied interventions by teachers, parents, friends and other factors impact the outcome of these choices. MTV will also be participating in the May 9th “National Summit on America’s Silent Dropout Epidemic” along with Congressional leaders, students, governors and educators in a call to action to end a dropout crisis that squanders the potential of America’s youth at great economic and social costs.
BuddyTV had a unique opportunity to sit down with Ian Rowe, MTV’s VP of Public Affairs and Strategic Partnerships, to discuss the vision behind “The Dropout Chronicles” and what MTV hopes to accomplish through the documentary and the summit.
Read the full interview below.
BuddyTV: For those that might not know, can you talk a little bit about thinkMTV and the overall goals of the initiative?
Ian Rowe: thinkMTV is the umbrella for the network’s on-air, off-air and online “pro-social” campaigns that engage, educate and encourage young people to take action on some of the biggest challenges facing their generation, including the Break the Addiction campaign on global warming, the Choose or Lose campaign on the presidential election, and ongoing efforts with the Kaiser Family Foundation on sexual health and HIV/AIDS. thinkMTV and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have also joined in an ongoing effort aimed at using MTV’s reach and credibility with young people, particularly low-income and minority youth, to provide them the tools, resources and media platform to graduate from high school prepared for college, career and life. The campaign consists of long-form documentaries such as the Dropout Chronicles and Think Over Your School, PSAs featuring high school students talking candidly about their aspirations for college and beyond; MTV News reports on young people and their educational desires; and online tools at think.mtv.com, including resources to prepare themselves for graduation, college, and the workplace.
What was the vision behind the “The Dropout Chronicles?”
To tell real stories that young people could watch and learn how their behavior can affect their education; and also that policymakers could watch to see what steps are being taken in a specific setting to improve graduation rates, that could be implemented more broadly.
The high school dropout crisis isn’t a new epidemic; it’s an issue that has plagued America for a long time. How do you see MTV and programs like thinkMTV changing this?
There is a realization that the high school dropout crisis has now moved beyond just a moral issue. It’s also now an economic, and American competitiveness issue. The US can no longer be a leader in innovation and improve the livelihoods of all of its citizens when one-third of students – more than a million per year – drop out of high school. MTV hopes to add to the chorus of voices – most notably the student voice – that are finally taking notice and standing up to take action to improve our nation’s education system.
How did you choose which students you were going to document for this particular program?
We wanted to find three young people with whom our audiences could identify and have their stories resonate. They aren’t superheroes, just average kids who find themselves studying in environments that are not necessarily conducive to a good education. When we tell stories in this fashion, there is a much greater likelihood that the impact of the show will be deeper as more young people will absorb the message.
Do you think that the individuals that you chose to document paint a realistic depiction of what the majority of kids are really going through today?
Each of these three young people – Maxine, Sean and Glendy – have incredible promise and aspirations, but the environment and educational system they find themselves in actually creates a barrier to their success, versus facilitating it. So, yes unfortunately their stories are a representative depiction.
One of the issues brought up early on in the documentary, is the fact that youth often times don’t receive much guidance from teachers, counselors and parents as to what steps they need to take in order to make sure they graduate and get into college. What are your thoughts around this?
Young people recognize there is a shared responsibility when it comes to their education. They have to play their part, and the school and parents have to play their part too, including providing information and expectations around high school graduation and college. Too often young people are operating in the dark as to what is actually expected of them to graduate high school ready for college.
What is the biggest takeaway that you want viewers to come away with after watching the program?
Operating under the same tough conditions, some kids graduate high school and go on to college, yet others drop out. Why? Our hope with the Dropout Chronicles is to show the real stories of three young people on the verge of dropping out, and most importantly how their personal decisions and school interventions (or lack thereof) make all the difference. Our hope is that when young people watch, they will see there are decisions that they control and can make that will improve their education. When policymakers watch, they will there are certain interventions – academic and otherwise – that if widely implemented, could have a substantive impact on graduation rates.
MTV will help host the “National Summit on America’s Silent Dropout Epidemic” Wednesday, May 9th. Is there anything you’d like to say about the summit and MTV’s involvement?
Typically, when these types of Education Summits occur, there is usually a conversation strictly among adults, and rarely is the perspective of young people really heard. MTV is proud to elevate the voice of young people at this Summit – through our Be the Voice winner, our Youth Roundtable, and the world premiere of The Dropout Chronicles. Hopefully, legislators, policymakers and media and others will gain a fresh perspective on developing scalable solutions having heard young people directly telling their story about the challenges of high school and graduating ready for college, career and life.
(Interview conducted by Royce Yuen)