Tovia Smith

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR News National Desk correspondent based in Boston.

For the last 25 years, Smith has been covering news around New England and beyond. She's reported extensively on the debate over gay marriage in Massachusetts and the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church, including breaking the news of the Pope's secret meeting with survivors.

Smith has traveled to New Hampshire to report on seven consecutive Primary elections, to the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill, and to Ground Zero in New York City after the September 11, 2001 attacks. She covered landmark court cases — from the trials of British au pair Louise Woodward, and abortion clinic gunman John Salvi, to the proceedings against shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Through the years, Smith has brought to air the distinct voices of Boston area residents, whether reacting to the capture of reputed Mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, or mourning the death of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.

In all of her reporting, Smith aims to tell personal stories that evoke the emotion and issues of the day. She has filed countless stories on legal, social, and political controversies from the biggies like abortion to smaller-scale disputes over whether to require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms.

With reporting that always push past the polemics, Smith advances the debate with more thoughtful, and thought-provoking, nuanced arguments from both –or all— sides. She has produced award-winning broadcasts on everything from race relations in Boston, adoption and juvenile crime, and has filed several documentary-length reports, including an award-winning half-hour special on modern-day orphanages.

Smith took a leave of absence from NPR in 1998, to launch Here and Now, a daily news magazine produced by NPR Member Station WBUR in Boston. As co-host of the program, she conducted live daily interviews on issues ranging from the impeachment of President Bill Clinton to allegations of sexual abuse in Massachusetts prisons, as well as regular features on cooking and movies.

In 1996, Smith worked as a radio consultant and journalism instructor in Africa. She spent several months teaching and reporting in Ethiopia, Guinea, and Tunisia. Smith filed her first on-air stories as a reporter for local affiliate WBUR in Boston in 1987.

Throughout her career, Smith has won more than two dozen national journalism awards including the Casey Medal, the Unity Award, a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award Honorable Mention, Ohio State Award, Radio and Television News Directors Association Award, and numerous honors from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Public Radio News Directors Association, and the Associated Press.

She is a graduate of Tufts University, with a degree in international relations.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. In Newtown, Connecticut, religious leaders gathered this afternoon to share strategy on how best to help their hurting community. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, the town's clergy are being tested in unprecedented ways, following Friday's devastating attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School.

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The painful process of burying the victims of Friday's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, began today with the funeral of the youngest victim. Noah Pozner leaves behind a 6-year-old twin sister, as well as his mother, father and three other siblings. He was remembered at a service in nearby Fairfield, and NPR's Tovia Smith was there.

Around 20,000 kids will be spending more time in school next year. A public-private partnership was announced on Monday to fund longer school days at some low-performing schools in five states.

With money coming in more slowly than the financial aid given out, schools say they are nearing the breaking point, and even the most selective elite universities are rethinking their generosity.

"It just became clear that if we continue to give more and more aid, the numbers don't add up," says Raynard Kington, head of Grinnell College. Thanks to longtime former board member Warren Buffett, Grinnell has an endowment bigger than most schools dream of. For years, that's enabled Grinnell to admit students on a need-blind basis — and then give them as much aid as they need.

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NPR's Tovia Smith has more on young voters.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: One commentator called it the demographic cliff. With young voters trending blue, and more and more of them coming of age each election, it doesn't bode well for the GOP.

MEGAN HIGGINBOTHAM: What do y'all feel?

SMITH: Twenty-three-year-old Megan Higginbotham sat in a local restaurant in Georgetown, Texas, this week, commiserating with other members of her Young Republicans Club - like 25-year-old Kristen Smith.

The number of states where gay marriage is legal will grow by at least two. On Tuesday, Maine and Maryland became the first states to approve same sex marriage by popular referendum. It brings the number of states where such unions are allowed to eight. In the state of Washington, the vote on a similar measure is still too close to call. In Minnesota, voters turned down an amendment to the state constitution that would have banned gay marriage.

Records of Boy Scout leaders accused of child molestation between the mid-1960s and the 1980s were made public today. The Oregon Supreme court ordered the release of the so-called "perversion files" over the objections of the Boy Scouts of America, who wanted them to remain confidential.

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NPR's business news starts with echoes of Solyndra.

A Massachusetts manufacturer of electric car batteries has filed for bankruptcy. The company, A123 Systems, had received hundreds of million dollars in federal support, including a $250 million grant.

As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, its failure is reigniting criticism of President Obama's green energy policies.

Massachusetts is reeling from a massive scandal in its state crime lab. Details are still emerging about what officials call a "rogue chemist" who may have mishandled evidence in as many as 40,000 cases over 10 years.

It could mean the unraveling of countless convictions.

Even lawyers prone to hyperbole may not be overstating it when they call the scandal a catastrophic failure and unmitigated disaster.

One of the primary issues at the heart of the the Chicago teachers' strike is whether student test scores should be used to evaluate teachers and determine their pay. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing that approach, as are other officials around the nation.

But many teachers insist that it's inherently unfair to grade their teaching based on their students' learning.

It was a major accomplishment in Chicago that teachers who used to walk out frequently had, for the past 25 years, managed to avoid a strike. But it's not surprising, many experts say, that things would fall apart now.

"I think it is a perfect storm," says Tim Knowles, head of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute. He says issues in Chicago — of tying teacher pay to student test scores, job security, longer school days and expanding charter schools, for example — are not unlike issues unions have grappled with in other cities, from New York to Los Angeles.

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Prison officials in Massachusetts say they are still reviewing a federal court decision in Boston ordering them to provide sex-change surgery for a prison inmate. Critics are urging officials to appeal what they call an outrageous abuse of taxpayer funds. But as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, the decision this week reflects national trends of prisons treating gender identity disorder as a legitimate medical condition deserving treatment like any other.

If you want to see how much Mitt and Ann Romney consider themselves a team, check out his official portrait at the Massachusetts Statehouse. He's the first governor to request that an image of his wife be included in the painting — he's posed beside a framed picture of her.

By all accounts, the Romneys consult each other on everything. So after a bruising campaign in 2008 that left Mrs. Romney openly disgusted by the process and vowing she would never do it again, it looked like that might be it for Mitt.

Timothy Courtois' family had been worried about him for weeks. They repeatedly told police in Biddeford, Maine, that the 49-year-old was off his meds for bipolar disorder. And police were also told he had guns. But still, because he wasn't doing anything that rose to the legal definition of imminent threat, police said their hands were tied.

A Colorado judge on Thursday will consider whether to lift the gag order in the case of James Holmes, 24, who's accused of killing 12 and wounding dozens more at a movie theater last month.

NPR and other news organizations want access to case files, including a notebook that Holmes reportedly sent to a university psychiatrist before withdrawing from the school that may have described an attack.

Those born at the height of the name-hyphenating craze will be the first to tell you — having two last names can be more trouble than it's worth. There's the perennial confusion at school and at the doctor's office, and the challenge of squeezing your name onto forms.

And now that the hyphenated generation is marrying and parenting, a whole host of new tricky situations has emerged.

Take Leila and Brendan. Their story is one of those fairy tale stories of love at first sight. She was in the lobby of her apartment building when this cute guy started moving in.

Congress has a matter of days left to work out a compromise or interest rates on some federal student loans will double. Five years ago, lawmakers offered students a reprieve — by cutting Stafford loan interest rates in half — but that ends July 1.

That's left many students worried that their heavy debt burden is about to get heavier.

A Massachusetts judge imposed the maximum sentence on a teen driver who was texting when they caused an accident that killed a pedestrian. It's part of a growing effort in a few states to bring tougher charges and impose harsher sentences for texting while driving.

The job market is still bleak for young people with only high school diplomas. Nearly half of high school graduates are still looking for full-time work, according to a new report by Rutgers University's John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.

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Now, one of the races where the Paycheck Fairness Act has been an issue. Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown has opposed it and his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren used it as another opportunity to take Brown to task today. Warren may be emboldened by new polls that show the race a dead heat.

Many expected her to be further behind after weeks of drubbing for classifying herself as Native American while she was working as a law professor at Harvard and elsewhere. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

Of the 278 sweaty-palmed students hoping to be crowned champion of this week's 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee, chances are pretty good that the winner will be of Indian descent. Indian-Americans have won the past four contests, and 9 of the past 13 — even though they make up less than 1 percent of the population.

Over the past decade, South Asians have built a veritable dynasty on the spelling bee circuit; one commentator compared their dominance to Kenyans winning marathons.

A day after President Obama announced his support for gay marriage, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney avoided the issue at a campaign appearance Thursday in Nebraska.

But in an interview with Fox News, he reiterated his belief that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry.

Obama has said his position on gay marriage "evolved" over time, and a case can be made that Romney's views on gay rights have changed as well.

It was no big surprise when outside groups started spending millions of dollars on attack ads in the high-stakes U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Republican strategist Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS superPAC aired spots highlighting Warren's ties to the Occupy Wall Street movement, saying she "sides with extreme left protests who support radical redistribution of wealth and violence."

As high school seniors wrestle with big decisions before Tuesday's deadline about which college they want to go to, some of the nation's top liberal arts colleges are dealing with big decisions of their own. Many of the most elite private schools are trying to figure out how they may have to adapt at a time when they're seen as a more expensive — and less direct — path to landing a job.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about Fenway Park. A century after it was built, fans still gush about this "lyric little bandbox," as John Updike called it. To guys like Ed Carpenter, Fenway is history and home, magic and mystique.

"I love this place," he says, tearing up. "I mean, it's not mortar and bricks and seats."

Carpenter first started coming to Fenway with his dad in 1949, when he was 6.

"We walked up this ramp right behind this home plate," he recalls. "I can still see everything was green, emerald green. It was love at first sight."

It's hard to imagine Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Lucille Ball as part of the same club. But they were all, at one time, Girl Scouts. Founded 100 years ago in Savannah, Ga., the Girl Scouts now count 3.2 million members.

Girl Scout cookies have become as much of an American tradition as apple pie. At a busy intersection in Brookline, Mass., a gaggle of Girl Scouts stand behind a folding table piled high with boxes of Thin Mints, Samoas and Shortbreads.

"They are really, really good," the troop collectively assures a prospective buyer.

There's little dispute among educators that kids are not reading as well as they should be, but there's endless debate over what to do about it. Now, a growing number of states are taking a hard-line approach through mandatory retentions — meaning third-graders who can't read at grade level will automatically get held back.

To those pushing the idea, it's equal doses of tough and love: You are not doing kids any favors, they say, by waiving them on to fourth grade if they aren't up to snuff on their reading.

That old public service announcement is pretty well ingrained these days: "Friends don't let friends drive drunk." But who else should be responsible for stopping would-be drunken drivers? Bars and restaurants are already legally on the hook. Some in Boston say valet parking attendants should be, too.

City Councilor Rob Consalvo says he decided something needed to be done after a 23-year-old on a scooter was mowed down by a drunken driver in Boston. The driver later said he was "blackout drunk" and couldn't believe that a valet guy actually handed him his car keys.

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