Meryl Streep Salutes Teachers and Students in "Back To School" Week on PBS Starting September 3

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A Passionate Supporter of Public Education, Streep Narrates "School," Introduces "The First Year," and Is Seen in Promotional Spots Throughout the Week

PBS Stations Complement Initiative With Local Programs

ALEXANDRIA, VA, August 14, 2001 - "I believe teachers are heroes. It's time we recognize the importance of these people who, despite countless obstacles and hardships, choose to teach . . . because they believe they can change the world, one mind at a time." So says Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep, introducing THE FIRST YEAR during PBS's "Back to School" week of programs highlighting public education starting Labor Day. Ms. Streep will introduce the documentary series SCHOOL: THE STORY OF AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION (which she also narrates), on Monday and Tuesday, September 3 and 4 at 9 p.m., and THE FIRST YEAR, a 90-minute cinema verite documentary about new teachers, on Thursday, September 6 at 9 p.m. In addition, Ms. Streep, who portrayed the East Harlem violin teacher Roberta Guaspari in the movie Music of the Heart, will also appear in several promotional spots throughout the week.

As part of "Back to School," PBS will also offer encore presentations of AMERICAN HIGH as well as diverse specials about education throughout September. (Check local listings.)

"Education is at the core of all we and our stations do at PBS, from programming to Web content to national outreach," said Pat Mitchell, president and CEO of PBS. "These programs tell the extraordinary story of a new nation's struggle for free, universal education, and examine the pressing issues that teachers, parents and students face today. We are grateful for the participation of Meryl Streep throughout our week and believe that her commitment to raising public awareness around the issues of education will increase the impact of all PBS programming on the subject."

Public television stations will complement the PBS initiative in a variety of ways during the week of September 3. The Oklahoma Network will produce a one-hour documentary honoring that state's teachers cited for excellence by the Milken Family Foundation. WETA is developing an on-air campaign of spots profiling "educational heroes" in the greater Washington, D.C. area. KLVX in Las Vegas will air a campaign of television spots honoring outstanding educators. WTVS Detroit Public Television will use its new Kids Club character to deliver back-to-school messages to young viewers, and is collaborating with Detroit Public Schools to build a magnet media and performing arts high school. Louisiana Public Broadcasting, in cooperation with the Academic Distinction Fund and other educational organizations, will use its six transmitter sites to air seven profiles of outstanding Louisiana students.

The "Back to School" Campaign

PBS's "Back to School" spots, co-written by Ms. Streep and Paul Miller, associate creative director of PBS, were taped in a schoolroom at elementary school P.S. 158 in New York. "Like most Americans, my interest in the subject is personal," she says in the introduction to SCHOOL. "I am the product of the New Jersey public school system. Both my brothers started out as teachers and one has been teaching in New York schools for over 10 years."

Lesli Rotenberg, PBS senior vice president, brand management and promotion, and John Ruppenthal, senior director, creative services, are executive producers of the "Back to School" television campaign. Paul Miller is writer/producer and Derrick Chamlee is creative director. Ron Honsa of Moving Pictures is director.

Meryl Streep's work in film, television and theater has been distinguished by the diversity of women she has chosen to portray and her great empathy for them. She won the Academy Award¨ twice, as Best Actress for Sophie's Choice (1982) and Best Supporting Actress for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). She has been nominated by the Academy 12 times, most recently for her work in The Bridges of Madison County, One True Thing, and Music of the Heart. She has also won the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Theater World Award, an Obie, and a Tony nomination. In September 1999, Ms. Streep received the Gotham Lifetime Achievement Award from the Independent Feature Project in New York. This spring she completed filming two new movies, The Hours (based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Michael Cunningham) and Adaptation (directed by Spike Jonze), both of which will be released in 2002. She is currently appearing in Mike Nichols' production of Chekhov's The Seagull, part of the Public Theater's annual free "Shakespeare in Central Park" series. She has been married to sculptor Don Gummer for 23 years. They have four children.

The Programs

SCHOOL examines the great American experiment of universal education, providing a history of this phenomenon from the American Revolution to today. The programs look at the fervent efforts of Thomas Jefferson and others to create a common system of tax-supported schools that would mix people of different backgrounds; the spread of public schooling in the 19th century; the massive wave of immigration in the early 20th century; the Civil Rights era; and the reforms and turmoil that mark our public school system today.

SCHOOL is accompanied by extensive outreach, including panel discussions, workshops, town hall meetings, screenings and local educational events, all examining the issues brought forth in the PBS series. Directed and produced by Sarah Mondale and Sarah Patton of Stone Lantern Films, Inc., SCHOOL is presented in association with KCET Hollywood.

America faces an extreme shortage of educators; it is estimated that to bridge the gap over the next ten years, over two million new teachers will need to be enlisted. THE FIRST YEAR chronicles the lives of five young teachers in southern California as they cope with their first year. The documentary follows them through the entire school year as they work with children, teenagers and adult immigrants. As they overcome the obstacles and reap the rewards of their profession, they demonstrate the fundamental role of talented, dedicated teachers in the health of our schools.

An outreach campaign includes a short version of the film available to educational organizations to inspire young adults to become teachers. THE FIRST YEAR, a presentation of KCET Hollywood, is directed by Davis Guggenheim and produced by Julia Schachter.

In addition, encore episodes of AMERICAN HIGH, the acclaimed PBS reality series about life in a Chicago high school, air each Wednesday night at 10 p.m. in September, with the culminating graduation episode airing on September 26. The series, which follows students in a suburban Chicago high school, has earned raves from critics and viewers alike.

Web Activities

Both SCHOOL: THE STORY OF AMERICAN PUBLIC EDUCATION and THE FIRST YEAR will offer expansive companion Web sites on PBS.org starting Wednesday, August 15. The site for SCHOOL (www.PBS.org/publicschool/) will feature information regarding today's most-discussed education issues, a look at the country's key historical and contemporary education figures and a virtual schoolhouse tour to see how today's classroom has evolved. Site visitors will be able to connect with organizations that are working to improve education where they live.

The Web site for THE FIRST YEAR (www.PBS.org/firstyear/) will provide resources for those who are inspired to get involved in public education. Users will be able to connect and share information in The First Year Forum, a message board for aspiring and experienced teachers, and get guidance on becoming an educator with insights from the film's first-year teachers. The site will also allow visitors to learn more about the teachers featured in the documentary, the story behind the film, and meet the filmmakers.

In addition, Extra, THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER's award-winning educational site featured on Online NewsHour (www.PBS.org/newshour/), will launch "For Teachers," a current-events resource for high school educators, in September. "For Teachers" will feature a weekly lesson plan on a topic reported by THE NEWSHOUR, transcripts of NEWSHOUR broadcasts, archives, classroom discussion topics and videos. The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) will collaborate on the initiative.

Additional Programming

PBS will offer its member stations additional programs keyed to education in September:

  • NO GREATER CALLING, hosted by Emmy Award-winning actor, producer and writer Edward James Olmos, is a one-hour documentary that celebrates model teachers whose skill and commitment touch the lives of their students in communities across America. (UNC-TV, North Carolina).

Encore programs:

  • ONLY A TEACHER is a three-hour series exploring the historical and ongoing importance of teachers in the lives of their students, emphasizing their crucial influence as role models and upholders of society's norms. (Claudia Levin Productions)
  • In THE MERROW REPORT: SCHOOL SLEUTH, recent winner of a Peabody Award, John Merrow casts himself as a private eye trying to solve "The Case of the Excellent School." He explores safety, curriculum, physical environment, adults in the building, and the school's sense of community to measure excellence in education. (South Carolina ETV)
  • THE MERROW REPORT: THE TOUGHEST JOB IN AMERICA chronicles David Hornbeck's six tumultuous years as head of Philadelphia's public school system, the fifth largest in the nation, and tells the story of one man's struggle to bring change to a system that bucks it at every turn. (South Carolina ETV)

PBS, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 346 public television stations. Serving nearly 100 million people each week, PBS enriches the lives of all Americans through quality programs and education services on noncommercial television, the Internet and other media. More information about PBS is available at PBS.org.

Cathy Lehrfeld

Kevin Dando, PBS
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