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Two programs on school system's TV channel address educational disparities

While many public school systems are gravitating toward the Web to reach audiences about programs, the Anne Arundel school system has turned to an older method to inform the public about its efforts to address purported educational disparities — prime-time television.

The AACPS Educational Television channel is now airing two shows about the system's mediated agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to address disparities for African-American students as well as eliminating the achievement gap.

The agreement requires the school system to inform the public twice a year about its progress on academic achievement, safe school environments and community engagement. This is the first time the school system has used TV to highlight all three areas at once, according to Carlesa Finney, director of equity assurance and human relations and host of one of the shows.

"This time we decided to have all 15-minute segments of each area, with examples from schools that are actually implementing or seeing some success in those areas," Finney added. "People are saying to us that they are glad we are keeping this information in the forefront to the public."

"OCR Update with Carlesa Finney" is a 25-minute monthly program hosted by the school system's Office of Equity Assurance and Human Relations. It showcases class lessons and sometimes features students demonstrating classroom projects.

"OCR Speaks" is a weekly one-hour program that also addresses educational disparities. The program features school administrators, staff and parents discussing such topics as suspensions and referrals.

In 2004, the Anne Arundel branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined with a consortium of community organizations in bringing a complaint against the school system, accusing it of subjecting African-American students to different treatment than other students with respect to discipline referrals, suspensions and expulsions.

The result was a 2005 memorandum of agreement signed by NAACP and county school officials.

In April, the Office of Civil Rights said it would investigate further allegations by the Anne Arundel branch of the NAACP that the county's school system discriminates against African-American students when meting out discipline.

Finney said that in May the OCR requested about 24 items and documents — including data for student achievement and group achievement. The school system submitted the information and is now awaiting further word from the OCR, Finney said.

The programs on the school system channel began airing in October. A recent "OCR Update" episode showcased the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program at Woodside Elementary School in Glen Burnie. It featured Woodside students Tairah Payne and Makhi Jobes demonstrating a motorized Lego robot — with a kicker's leg and a soccer ball and goal.

The robotic leg spun and sound effects blared. Students build the Lego robot and wrote its computer program, then-Woodside Elementary Principal Anthony Alston said on the program.

Tairah, a fifth-grader at Woodside, said during the show that she intends to take the STEM lessons to middle school and high school. Makhi said that the lessons learned have already prompted him to consider what he wants to be when he grows up.

"I want to be a K-9 officer or having my own SWAT team, and I'm kind of thinking about being a special-ed teacher," Makhi said.

Wanda Stansbury, co-chair of the school system's OCR Advisory Committee who is a frequent guest on the shows, said that many local residents watch the school system's station and added that the debut of "OCR Update" featured a Finney interview with her.

Since then, she said, "I get people everywhere I go in the community say, 'I saw you on TV.' It's warming to know that they are watching and they are sitting there intently watching and they are hearing about what's going on with respect to the OCR complaint."

"OCR Update with Carlesa Finney" and "OCR Speaks" air repeatedly during the week on AACPS Educational Television: Comcast and Broadstripe Channel 96 and Verizon Channel 36. Go to http://www.aacps.org to find showtimes.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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