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INDEPENDENT LENS: The Graduates

Airs Mondays, October 28 & November 4, 2013 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: An organization called Reality Changers helped San Diego’s Eduardo (pictured) turn his life around.

"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.

Courtesy of Rahoul Ghose/PBS

During PBS’ INDEPENDENT LENS “The Graduates/Los Graduados” session at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles, Calif. on Wed., Aug. 7, 2013, featured students Eduardo Corona and Chastity Salas, actors Aimee Garcia and Wilmer Valderrama, executive producer Bernardo Ruiz (pictured) and senior series producer Lois Vossen discuss the Latino dropout crisis and the ongoing effort to increase graduation rates.

Courtesy of Quiet Pictures

Tulsa native Darlene became pregnant and left school. She is currently working towards graduation day and beyond.

Courtesy of Quiet Pictures

Stephanie lives with her family, who emigrated from El Salvador, in Chicago.

Courtesy of Rahoul Ghose/PBS

During PBS’ INDEPENDENT LENS “The Graduates/Los Graduados” session at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles, Calif. on Wednesday, August 7, 2013, featured students Eduardo Corona and Chastity Salas (pictured), actors Aimee Garcia and Wilmer Valderrama, executive producer Bernardo Ruiz and senior series producer Lois Vossen discuss the Latino dropout crisis and the ongoing effort to increase graduation rates.

Film Quote

“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"

Courtesy of Rahoul Ghose/PBS

During PBS’ INDEPENDENT LENS “The Graduates/Los Graduados” session at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles, Calif. on Wed., Aug. 7, 2013, featured students Eduardo Corona (pictured) and Chastity Salas, actors Aimee Garcia and Wilmer Valderrama, executive producer Bernardo Ruiz and senior series producer Lois Vossen discuss the Latino dropout crisis and the ongoing effort to increase graduation rates.

Courtesy of Quiet Pictures

Gustavo grew up in Griffin, Georgia, is an advocate for the DREAM Act and is now in college.

Courtesy of Quiet Pictures

Juan came out as a freshman. He was on the verge of dropping out but the performing arts kept him in school.

CONNECT

Visit the INDEPENDENT LENS website for a list of related resources and more information on how to get involved.

"The Graduates/Los Graduados," is on Facebook, and you can follow @gradslatino on Twitter.

INDEPENDENT LENS is on Facebook, and you can follow @IndependentLens on Twitter.

"The Graduates/Los Graduados" premieres on INDEPENDENT LENS on two consecutive Mondays, October 28, 2013 and November 4, 2013 on PBS. The program will also be presented in Spanish on the Spanish-language channel V-me and online at PBS.org. "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).

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 One: "Girls" airs Monday, October 28 at 10 p.m. - 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 Two: "Boys" airs Monday, November 4, 2013 at 10 p.m. - 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, 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 ‘70s 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.

The Graduates/Los Graduados: Coming This Fall to PBS

This two-part, bilingual documentary explores pressing issues in education today through the eyes of six Latino and Latina adolescents from across the United States, offering first-hand perspectives on the barriers they have to overcome in order to make their dreams come true.

A Latina Struggles with Homelessness While in High School

In this excerpt from the Independent Lens documentary, The Graduates/Los Graduados, we meet Chastity, a young, Latina student who lives in the Bronx, NY. While in high school, Chastity was actually living with her family in a homeless shelter, which made it difficult for her to focus on succeeding academically.

Latino Student Chooses Between Gang Life or Graduation

In this excerpt from the Independent Lens documentary, The Graduates/Los Graduados, we meet Eduardo, a young, Latino student in San Diego who describes how the lure of gangs and drug use have prevented most of his relatives from graduating.

Latina Student Faces Present Day School Segregation

In this excerpt from the Independent Lens documentary, The Graduates/Los Graduados, we meet Stephanie, a young, Latina student in Chicago who has considered dropping out due to the fact that her high school is poorly regarded and may limit her opportunities to succeed.

The Graduates/Los Graduados: Latino Student Stories

Two-part, bilingual documentary explores pressing issues in education today through the eyes of six Latino and Latina adolescents from across the United States, offering first-hand perspectives on the barriers they have to overcome in order to make their dreams come true.