MIAMI - Graduates of a Miami high school created a non-profit to give back to their alma mater and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Focus On Tomorrow is comprised of G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School alumni -- who include Local 10's Christina Vazquez and Power 96's DJ Zog -- working to restore the school's broadcast journalism program. But that's just their first project. The ultimate goal is to create an organization that can help revive many creative programs at schools countywide.
Will Barroso is the group's co-director. The Braddock alum now works as a staff accountant at the ABC station in Chicago.
"While the TV program at Braddock is the focus right now, we have encompassed that project into a save the arts campaign," Barroso said. "Other schools are losing different programs for a variety of reasons. I think the time is now for our community to come together and invest in our kids."
ABC-7 in Chicago recently donated four studio cameras for the proposed upgraded studio at Braddock.
"Public education will not prosper and the future of our nation which relies on a quality education will not improve if the private sector does not get involved," Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told Vazquez. "Why do I believe that program is so important? Look, journalists are the truth-tellers. Investing in a journalism program in high school is to ensure that democracy is alive -- to ensure that the watchdogs of freedom are protected -- is to ensure liberty and the freedom of expression are as important to us today as they were 200 years ago. That's why this program at Braddock is so key in terms of it being protected."
The group's first public fundraiser was held Wednesday at the Paragon Theater in Coconut Grove's CocoWalk.
The effort to restore Braddock's broadcast journalism program is probably most meaningful to the woman who ran it for most of her teaching career, Karen Herzog.
"I love my job," Herzog told Vazquez as the pair walked through the library of G. Holmes Braddock Senior High.
"Did you ever think all these years later I'd be interviewing you?" Vazquez asked her former journalism teacher.
"I'm so proud of you kids," Herzog responded with a smile.
Toward the end of a narrow hallway she opens a door.
"Welcome to what used to be the control room and now is empty," she said.
A few scraps of mostly outdated equipment, empty gear racks and a gutted television studio are all that's left of a once vibrant broadcast journalism program. The anchor desk is gone. The lighting grid above it dark.
"It's sad to see that the money issue has made it difficult for the schools to keep these programs going," Herzog said.
The high school journalists who once worked this studio took their self-appointed jobs seriously. They produced daily news shows and hosted debates. Some of the students also got a chance each year to participate in a Universal Studios film contest.
They let you film on the back lots. We were in hot air balloons and speed boats. I even was in a helicopter. It was so much fun.
"What is it that happened in here that inspired so many of us?" Vazquez asked.
"I think I taught you journalism," said Herzog, "I taught you about the workplace, how to handle money, how to do be in the leadership role. You learned to write scripts. I enjoyed watching you kids run a show. It was just a wonderful, wonderful time."
According to the school's principal, Manuel Garcia, the lights went dark in Braddock's television studio two years ago. There simply wasn't enough money to make the necessary capital improvements.
When she was a student at Braddock, Vazquez was a WBHS anchor and show co-host. Barroso was her executive producer.
"Rebuilding WBHS at Braddock is extremely important to me because of what it meant to me while I was a student. Some of my classmates and I spent a lot of time working on this and in a way it kept us out of trouble and looking back it added so much value to my childhood and professionally it still stays with me," Barroso said.
On a visit of the school earlier this year, he posed for a photo in the old control room.
"With a sad face, I posted it on Facebook. I was really surprised everyone started reaching out," he said. "We knew had to do something."
Braddock alumni across the country began to ask how they could help, which led to strategy meetings. Before long, they launched "Focus On Tomorrow".
"While the TV program at Braddock is the focus right now, we have encompassed that project into a save the arts campaign," Barroso said. "Other schools are losing different programs for a variety of reasons. I think the time is now for our community to come together and invest in our kids. These programs are failing and I think it's beyond the school's responsibility. It is the community's responsibility to contribute."
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told Local 10 he is excited about Focus on Tomorrow's vision because he shares their passion for protecting programs that foster creativity.
WATCH Local10.com Extra: Carvalho talks about Focus on Tomorrow
"A well-rounded education without extensionally important aspects of music, art, physical education and elective programs like journalism, is not a public education. Actually, it is not an education at all," Carvalho said. "I think we are ushering in a new era in public education, particularly here in Miami-Dade, a real revolution of ideas and experiences. But it requires a marriage of stakeholders, the clients of public education and those who actually provide the services. And the gateway -- the bridge between those two -- is the private sector; the private sector in this example has been incredibly important in reviving a program of incredible value to our community, the journalism program."
"I have a special place for the arts because not everybody is going to be an accountant, not everybody is going to be a doctor, and arts is where you can express yourself," Herzog told Local 10.
This will be her last year at the school. And she couldn't help but get choked up knowing that after fighting so hard for the success of her students. they were now fighting to restore the program she once ran.
"I'm just so proud of you guys," she said. "I mean, how many teachers have this honor? I'm being blessed."
To donate to Focus On Tomorrow: http://focus-on-tomorrow.org/contribute/
Prominent Braddock alumni: http://focus-on-tomorrow.org/other-alumni/
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