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REL Midwest public TV documentary examines Black students’ higher education aspirations

Documentary on Black students’ higher ed aspirations

By Laura Checovich
February 25, 2020

Research shows that Black students have high aspirations for what they hope to achieve after high school. Yet many Black students do not attain their aspirations for higher education.

To examine this issue in-depth, REL Midwest collaborated with members of our Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance (MAGRA) and PBS Wisconsin to produce the documentary High Hopes and Higher Education: Honoring Black Students’ Aspirations. This half-hour video explores evidence-based practices and programs in Wisconsin focused on supporting Black students’ higher education aspirations. To show the practices in action, the documentary highlights initiatives in Wisconsin that have demonstrated positive outcomes, such as the Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The documentary supports MAGRA’s goal of increasing educational outcomes for Black students. Jameela Conway-Turner, Ph.D., REL Midwest research liaison for MAGRA, noted that “it’s so important for schools, teachers, and parents to know what they can do to support Black students so they are able to reach their postsecondary goals. We have to acknowledge that there is more work to be done, discuss solutions, and do whatever is necessary to change the systems and structures in place.”

This past fall, REL Midwest and MAGRA hosted two public screenings of the documentary in Madison, Wisconsin. The goal was to engage in discussion with educators and community members around supporting Black students’ higher education aspirations.

On November 13, 2019, more than 30 stakeholders came to the Goodman Community Center in Madison for the documentary’s premiere screening. Audience members from across the community attended, with a strong representation of both higher education practitioners and K–12 educators.

After viewing the documentary, the audience engaged in an active discussion with an expert panel, which included Dr. Conway-Turner; Dr. Madeline Hafner, executive director at the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN) at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison; and Andrea Jones, multicultural student coordinator at James Madison Memorial High School. The panel discussed promising practices that educators can use to support Black students on their journey to and through postsecondary education, such as embracing culturally responsive education and developing strong student-teacher relationships. In addition, the group discussed ways that students, parents, districts, and postsecondary institutions in Wisconsin can collaborate to support the programs featured in the documentary and to raise awareness about opportunities for Black students in the state.

The following week, on November 19, REL Midwest screened the documentary at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW) Division of Diversity, Equity & Educational Achievement luncheon. Staff and faculty from the university attended to learn more about the opportunity gap for Black students at UW and to discuss the role they could each play to address the issue. Attendees who joined the discussion included Gail Ford, director of PEOPLE; Prenicia Clifton, director of precollege programs for UW; Bukky Leonard, teaching specialist at PEOPLE; and Kanesha Freiburg, a PEOPLE College Scholar.

While the documentary focuses on examples from Wisconsin, the information and evidence shared in the program offer important learnings for people and groups beyond the state. Be sure to check out the documentary and to use its companion viewing guide to host your own screening and continue the discussion about how to support Black students’ higher education aspirations.

About REL Midwest public television documentaries

REL Midwest collaborates with public television stations to produce 30-minute documentaries that delve into education topics relevant to our region. These programs provide insights from research and experts in the field and amplify different voices and perspectives to support changes in practice. REL Midwest hosts public screenings of these programs to engage educators in discussions about the content of the documentaries, the implications for practice, and strategies to improve student outcomes.

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Author Information

Laura Checovich Staff Picture

Laura Checovich

Communications Associate | REL Midwest


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