After airing on NBC4 (WRC-TV) for more than six decades, “It’s Academic” has found a new home at WETA amid ongoing conversations nationwide about racial equity and how audiences consume media.
During what will be “It’s Academic’s” 62nd season, three students from KIPP DC College Preparatory, a mostly-Black public charter school in Northeast, will compete against Washington International School in Northwest and Sandy Spring Friends School in Sandy Springs, Maryland.
Christina Bryant, Kaleb Fitzgerald and Jasiyah Jones spent a recent two-hour taping recounting facts and executing strategies learned while training with their coaches Patrick Wu and Chris Gleditsch.
The significance of October 16 had not been lost on team members, particularly Kaleb.
“Low key we’re the only school repping Black people,” said Kaleb, a junior at KIPP College Preparatory and It’s Academic team captain.
“We didn’t perform as well … but with more studying and participation from those who want to help us and put in the effort, we can get to that level in due time.”
On Oct. 29, It’s Academic’s virtual season premiere on WETA will feature teams from Herndon High School in Herndon, Virginia, Washington-Liberty High School in Alexandria, Virginia and W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia.
The episode featuring KIPP DC College Preparatory is scheduled to air in December.
For several years, students from 81 D.C. metropolitan high schools competed on “It’s Academic” surrounded by cheerleaders, bands and screaming audience members in an environment fashioned like a homecoming football game.
Jackson-Reed High School in Northwest and Anacostia High School in Southeast counted among the District schools to appear on the program. Similarly-formatted television programs across the United States continue to air in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other cities.
The Informer unsuccessfully attempted to gather comment from NBC4 about the circumstances of “It’s Academic’s” removal, and that of the annual Informer spelling bee.
Over the last couple of decades, game questions and contestants featured on “It’s Academic” have increasingly reflected the ethnic and cultural diversity of the U.S. These days, students who appear in the program often hail from various racial communities in the United States and around the world.
Additionally, contestants will more than likely receive questions about events and inventions involving people of color.
“It’s Academic” has also adjusted its audience engagement strategy. When the pandemic compelled a pivot to virtual competitions, producers observed how the change impacted audience viewership. As a result, are able to view “It’s Academic” any time on various online platforms.
“In terms of where to find our audience, we have to go to them,” said Susan Altman, “It’s Academic’s” executive producer and daughter of the late Sophie Altman, who conceptualized and launched the program in 1961.
“We have to develop models that engage our audience,” Altman continued.
“With the show going into its 62nd year, it’s [about] holding onto things that made it popular and engage people so they connect with students. At the same time, we move forward and take advantage of the new technology so the show doesn’t become dated.”
In preparation for “It’s Academic,” students at KIPP DC College Preparatory watched previous “It’s Academic” episodes and scoured through practice quizzes that included questions about history, physics, math and other disciplines.
The team often met Wu, a college counselor at KIPP DC College Preparatory, and Gleditsch, a U.S. History teacher, on Fridays after school to study. If they couldn’t make sessions, they would carve time out of their schedule to dig into a notebook filled with questions.
Christina, a junior at KIPP DC College Preparatory, said she channeled her love for learning into her practice regimen for “It’s Academic.” Although she and her teammates recall feeling nervous, Christina said being on television makes the experience well worth it.
“My family’s pretty excited about it,” Christina said.
“I’ve never been on television before. I think my friends are happy for me,” she added. “Being on the show will spread KIPP’s name and make us more well known.”
Meanwhile, Jasiyah, currently in his freshman year, recounted joining KIPP DC College Preparatory’s It’s Academic team eager for an authentic high school experience.
He said the events of the past month confirmed his expectations.
“This made my freshman year better,” Jasiyah said. “Maybe I will do it again next year. I would encourage other people to do it.”