AUSTIN (KXAN) — The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Leadership Foundation has named KXAN as a finalist for its 2020 Celebration of Service to America Awards, recognizing outstanding community service by local broadcasters.

As the school year started in August 2019, KXAN launched a multi-platform project called Save Our Students (S.O.S.), exploring solutions for the wellness and safety of youth.

KXAN’s journalists searched around Texas and across the country for innovative and proactive efforts to address issues happening inside schools, such as student suicide and violence.

Texas health experts estimate one in six students is significantly affected by mental illness.

The S.O.S. project includes multiple stories about safety initiatives and threat assessments, as well as interviews with mental health experts, law enforcement and school district administrators.

KXAN News morning anchor Tom Miller asks Central Texas school counselors about student mental health.

KXAN’s Tom Miller organized a group interview of school counselors from five local school districts in Central Texas, who revealed challenges they face on the job, solutions they’re implementing, and what they believe parents should know about their kids’ mental health.

The custom-designed online project includes a Support and Outreach section, providing resources to the public for help with mental illness, suicide and bullying.

“The S.O.S. project is the epitome of KXAN’s core purpose, enriching the community,” said KXAN Vice-President and General Manager Eric Lassberg. “The solutions-focused project not only informed our audience on a critical issue, but also sparked positive conversation and action in the community.”

KXAN’s approach to the project was inspired by the Solutions Journalism Network, an independent non-profit organization that trains journalists on ways to report about responses to social problems.

Save Our Students town hall in August 2019 at Stony Point H.S. in Round Rock ISD.

To encourage community dialogue, KXAN produced three live-streamed town halls featuring local education and mental health experts, in addition to law enforcement officers who work with youth.

In a livestream from inside the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area, teenagers spoke candidly to KXAN’s Josh Hinkle and Erin Cargile about mental health challenges at their schools.

KXAN also created an S.O.S. Facebook group and encouraged the public to join and share comments, questions and ideas, as well as receive updates on stories and events.

KXAN News anchors Roger Wallace, Sydney Benter and Robert Hadlock at a mobile newsroom at an August 2019 Round Rock Express game.

KXAN setup “mobile newsrooms” at multiple public events, where news anchors and reporters engaged with people to hear their challenges, concerns and ideas for students’ safety.

The mobile newsroom sites included a Round Round Express baseball game, the Kyle Pie in the Sky Hot Air Balloon Festival and along Austin’s Hike and Bike Trail.

More than 50 KXAN staff members contributed to the S.O.S. project.

“In a phase when we were reporting on more and more acts of violence inside our schools, our entire staff knew this project was an important, timely service to our community,” said KXAN News Director Chad Cross. “We aimed to look at the root of that violence and how it could perhaps be prevented with proactive efforts and sharing of ideas.”

The project was shared with all of the Texas TV stations and websites owned by Nexstar Media Group, Inc., so that audiences throughout the state could access the information.

“America’s radio and television stations’ dedication to public service shines brightly in local communities every day, and continually ensures the safety and well-being of viewers and listeners,” said NAB Leadership Foundation President Michelle Duke. “We look forward to celebrating broadcasters who have gone above and beyond to serve communities and families in need, and we are thrilled to honor broadcasters’ service with audiences across the country.”

The NAB is an advocacy association representing television and radio interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs.

The NAB Leadership Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the future of broadcasting through leadership, diversity and community service.

KXAN is a finalist in the large market television category. One winner from each category will be announced in August.

The S.O.S. project was honored recently with a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Innovation from the Radio Television Digital News Association, as well as the Texas School Bell Award from the Texas State Teachers Association.