Rewarding Commitment to Schools

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A new national awards program and a road show devoted to media literacy headline the cable industry’s growing effort to raise its profile as a provider of educational programming and technology. The moves signal cable’s determination to win more credit for its educational initiatives, and to curry favor in Washington, where policymakers have raised the specter of clamping down on “indecent” TV content and forcing operators to offer channels a la carte.

“We’re at a point where we need to let policymakers know about the industry’s commitment and put a spotlight on the resources it provides to educators,” says Carol Vernon, public affairs director at Cable in the Classroom.

LEARNING AWARDS

Cable’s Leaders in Learning Awards, first announced in May, will recognize policymakers, educators or others who have “transformed some aspect of K-12 education,” according to CIC. The organization will present the awards at a gala event in Washington, D.C., next May. What’s unusual about the effort is that it won’t simply single out the usual suspects — teachers and principals — says CIC executive director Peggy O’Brien, who will depart the organization at the end of the month to become a senior executive at the Corp. for Public Broadcasting.

“It’s interesting trying to figure out how to get across that message of finding people involved in education at all levels,” she says. “There isn’t another awards program like this out there.”

Disney Channel is creating a public service announcement to publicize the awards, and operators have received kits designed to help them get the word out to schools and policymakers who might want to nominate an individual. Details and entry materials can also be found online at Leadersinlearningawards.org.

According to O’Brien, winners could be federal, state or local policymakers, school superintendents, principals or teachers, or others involved in educating people — including people working at after-school programs, community centers or other organizations. “There might be a hospital that’s using cable content or broadband technology or school administrators who have found a way to bring cable’s content to the community,” she says.

Only about half of the dozen Leaders in Learning Awards will recognize innovations that utilized cable resources, O’Brien says. The rest will go to educational initiatives of any kind, as long as they stand out.

ON THE ROAD FOR LITERACY

Just as they play a role in publicizing Cable’s Leaders in Learning Awards, cable operators will be visibly involved in “Media Smart Families Workshops,” a new road show designed to teach parents about media literacy and the technologies they can use to control their children’s access to content. The program seeks to address rising concerns among parents about controlling their kids’ access to inappropriate material on TV, the Internet and in video games. But it is also clearly aimed at policymakers, and quelling their calls for curbs on sexually explicit TV programming and for requiring cable operators to offer their channels a la carte, instead of in packages.

CIC recruited two allies to create the workshops: the National PTA — which has worked with the organization on other media-literacy initiatives in the past — as well as the Center for Media Literacy.

The “Media Smart Families Workshops” will begin with a presentation to member of Congress and Capitol Hill staff members on Sept. 27. Next, the workshops will travel through the fall and into next year to cities selected by CIC and the National PTA. “Some of the markets are being chosen for political reasons, and others are places where the PTA is particularly inactive,” O’Brien says.

Each workshop will begin with a presentation by a representative of the Center for Media Literacy, who will talk about understanding the media and how it works. Next will come what O’Brien calls “a science fair,” in which participants will get hands-on experience at programming a V-chip-enabled television set and a digital cable set-top box to block out unwanted shows or channels.

While Cable’s Leaders in Learning Awards and the Media Smart Families Workshops have a political bent, they aren’t the CIC’s only new initiatives. Another is “e-LECTIONS,” a 3-D broadband game designed to show how the U.S. elects its government officials.

Inspired by the classic board game, The Game of Life, e-LECTIONS lets players assume the role of a presidential candidate, choosing platforms and realizing how those choices affect their ability to raise campaign funds and get elected. Cable News Network and The History Channel, partners in the project, enriched the game with video and other materials about elections past and present.

CLOSER TO NCTA

During the past 12 months, CIC has decided to focus much of its activity on a few highly visible programs. Leaders in Learning Awards and the Media Smart Families Workshops are examples of that. They also reflect what insiders say is a “much closer” relationship than in the past between CIC and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. The extent of the partnership became more apparent early this month, when O’Brien announced her resignation. CIC appointed an interim management triumvirate of senior staff members and says it wouldn’t hire a new executive director until the NCTA has replaced its outgoing president, Robert Sachs. That won’t take place until after the November elections.

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