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TC Alumna Reaches Out to Teens

With the expansion of technology, today's teens are confronted with new and complicated issues that many adults may not have even experienced.

Teenagers are turning to the Internet, television and the mass media for role models. Being constantly bombarded with images, today's teens have a tough time sorting out the good from the bad. In the Mix is a public television show that helps teens and their teachers to communicate better.

Sue Castle (MA, 1963), is the Executive Producer of In the Mix, an award-winning, reality-based pro-social series for young adults that combines hip entertainment with educational content to reach a wide audience of young people.

In 1991, Castle was asked by WNYC television to do a pilot episode of a magazine show for teens. She was previously doing parenting magazine shows for Joan Lunden on Lifetime television. In the Mix was originally intended to be local, but went national after Castle raised more funding. The series was launched in 1993.

Currently, the program is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Carnegie Corporation of NY, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

In 1995, WNYC was sold and Castle obtained the rights to In the Mix, which among other tasks, meant it was her job to find the necessary funding to keep the show going. So, Castle added more staff, used a single theme format and changed the pace and style of the program.

"We changed to the single theme format because teachers liked it better," said Castle. "As long as it was an issue that they cared about, teens could easily sit through a half-hour episode."

The magazine format only allowed short 7-8 minute segments about a variety of different topics.

"The single theme format allowed more depth to serious issues such as smoking or self-image," Castle commented.

In the Mix is a starting point for discussion between teens, teachers and their parents. Castle said that she gathers the material and topics for the show from teens themselves.

"We ask the kids to supply the topics," said Castle. "We have asked hundreds of kids around the city 'What don't you like about television?'"

The kids answered "we don't like the way we are portrayed" and "we want real kids, real issues and information."

Not only is In the Mix reaching out to teens directly, but it reaches out to teens through their teachers. The teachers know when the kids aren't getting the message, said Castle. This program is a valuable catalyst for discussion and critical thinking.

"Schools teach all kinds of things, but not basic survival," said Castle.

Since In the Mix is on PBS channels nationally, viewers should check local listings for when the show airs. In some places, it airs early in the morning in the educational block.

Teachers can tape In the Mix off the air and use it for free or order it from Castle Works Productions if it doesn't air in their area. Also, some shows have accompanying study guides which teachers can send for or download off the Web.

Castle said, "It's a site for both teachers and teens."

The navigation bar on the Web site has an educator section, said Castle. It is an area where teachers can e-mail or write in how they use the information provided by the show.

The Web site also provides feedback for Castle to find out how teens like the show interaction between viewers. She welcomes both teens, teachers and parents to e-mail their comments and suggestions for future programs. If In the Mix uses an idea from one of the e-mails or other correspondences, the sender will receive an attribution at the end of the show.

An e-mail from a teenage immigrant said, "The other day I turned on the TV and your show was on, it really interested me because I can identify with these teenagers who sometimes feel out of place like me."

"I don't know why people are afraid of working with teens," Castle said. "Most are sharper than we give them credit for. They aren't only concerned about clothes and relationships."

The program is able to reach out to teens all over the country through strategic alliances with national organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Girl Scouts, National 4-H Clubs, Teach for America, Police Athletic Leagues, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Y's and Girls Inc.

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