TC and Listen Up! Co-Host “The Way We See It: Youth Speak Out on Education”
Published in Inside - Volume IX, No. 7
Imagine asking teenage youths across the country two simple questions: "What makes a school worth going to?" and "What makes a teacher worth listening to?"
In the New York premiere of The Way We See It: Youth Speak Out on Education, students from cities across the U.S., from Oakland to Salt Lake City to Manhattan, presented their responses through a series of original videos, depicting either the teachers or schools that made a difference in their individual lives. The premiere was held at TC's Milbank Chapel on March 3rd.
The Speak Out project is sponsored by Listen Up!, a national network of youth media groups, professional media organizations, non-profits, foundations, and private partners, whose mission is "to help youth be heard in the mass media, contributing to a culture of free speech and social responsibility." The Youth Speak Out on Education project, funded by the MetLife Foundation, began as a competition in which 80 media organizations opened up a process through which students, aided by adult mentors, submitted one-paragraph proposals on how they would use media to answer the two questions (the questions were written by education reporter, commentator and TC Trustee John Merrow).
In April 2003, nine teams of youth producers were awarded $10,000 grants from MetLife Foundation and Listen Up! to produce their videos. At the premiere, Merrow introduced members of Listen Up! and moderated the panel discussion. He noted that these films were also planned to air on his PBS television show.
The five short documentaries, all scripted, filmed, produced and edited by teams of high school students, focused on a range of experiences at school. One film, Those Who Can…Teach, featuring Vicki Chan of Skyline High School (Oakland, CA), portrayed a school gymnastics/dance teacher who inspired students to focus and work hard, and a motorcycle-riding physics teacher who wasn't afraid to "walk the talk" and demonstrate-with amusing results-the principles of physics in action.
A particularly stirring film was one made in New York City, called A Story of Promise. The autobiographical piece was the story of Gerardo Vargas (nicknamed "Promise"), a young man who was being absorbed into gang culture with an increasingly dismal view of school and teachers until he enrolled in Satellite High School.
Satellite, a small alternative high school in New York City, built an atmosphere of community and respect, with classrooms no larger than 15 students, where Vargas was able to know his teachers on a first-name basis. In that supportive environment, he became an outstanding student, was accepted into college, began a recording label, and is considering releasing a Spanish-language version of his documentary.
In the question-and-answer period that followed the films, Vargas said that the process of making the documentary strongly contributed to the turnaround he experienced, in and out of the classroom. Vargas' father, who was present in the audience at Milbank, raised his hand, identified himself, and voiced his support of the project and how it had affected the life of his son in positive ways. For more information visit: http://www.pbs.org/merrow/listenup/index.html