Access, Platforms & Partnerships: The Media Arts Collaborative Charter School

The Media Arts Collaborative Charter School (MACCS) in New Mexico provides an interesting case study for some of the perennial issues facing the youth media field today. Our school is built entirely around young people’s access to media and technology—we offer electives only in media arts. New Mexico high school students of diverse means, ethnicities, histories, cultures and perspectives travel to MACCS by choice, as a public school offering a unique educational experience.
At MACCS, students have at their disposal high-tech tools such as high-definition cameras, latest-version software for audio, film, television, web design, photography, and animation. Industry-experienced and highly qualified teachers work with Web 2.0 resources to bring about the accessibility for all students to become active learners, engaged in a rigorous and rich media arts education that wraps around all content curricula.
With a unique curricular focus, students are choosing a small learning environment over the traditional larger populated high school. Educating in the 21st Century with advanced technological resources, MACCS is striving to promote critical thinking and engage students’ voice in an academic, personal, and socially meaningful platform via student presentations and exhibitions of learning within media venues.
However, within this external, technologically gratifying, educational environment lies the challenge of students to become active media change agents for their causes, the community and for society at large, rather than simply invigorating their academics. Despite the good intentions of MACCS in providing media access in rural communities, balancing process and product is challenged with the variables that come with a school—the necessity of grades and the difficulty in cultivating in-school learning for a just cause or project.
MACCS & Challenges
Founded by industry professionals and creative dreamers, MACCS exists to promote authentic and intellectual student creativity within a college readiness environment offering Advance Placement and Dual Credit courses. MACCS’ goal is for graduates to be competitive hires for the film and media industries, or attend a post-secondary school based on the strength of their high school education in youth media.
As students prepare presentations of content knowledge utilizing a media format, such as an audio, televised or film piece, often their motivation of learning lies within the apparatus of technology to finally present their knowledge. They are striving to get a good academic grade, and don’t always take advantage of say, a captive public audience that youth media programs afford.
Although students are fully engaged and motivated in their learning of academic content and media arts classes, their global awareness of the business, monopolization and justice of media might be left to the status quo, with no emphasis or introduction given to media as a platform for access to voice, equity for discrimination, or civic engagement.
Likewise, educators and students alike can fall prey to the machined, automated capacity of the technology our school affords. And so, we developed a partnership with a local youth media and media literacy organization.
Partnering with Youth Media & Media Literacy
These challenges, within a school context, are just cause to promote and mandate media literacy instruction as a pre-requisite toour media-focused students. The New Mexico Media Literacy Project (NMMLP; Albuquerque, NM) provides foundations in learning, specifically related to media awareness and equity, that address many of these issues while staying current with media trends and topics in society at large.
By having access to a foundation in media literacy, students can find their inner strengths and explore the feelings and overall process of an original piece of work, develop critical thinking in order to ask rhetorical questions, and find the self-confidence to be able to talk about their creative processes. Without basic knowledge of media literacy, technology, use of hardware and software, students in rural areas have a disproportionate disadvantage to learning.
MACCS’ partnership with NMMLP will provide curriculum in Media Literacy and Media Arts to promote a higher order of academics, based on critical thinking, media equity and justice, authentic experience, and problem solving.
Through the partnership with NMMLP, students from myriad communities and backgrounds can discuss and analyze media marketing of values. Youth media organizations, such as the NMMLP, are vital advisors and trainers to schools like MACCS, offering key and invaluable insight.
The Local, On-Line Context
In general, teens have few places to go to analyze and critique the media. Social interaction sites such as Facebook and Twitter encourage teens to consume products or gossip rather than engage in critical thinking.
In addition, students in rural areas of NM don’t have access to the internet, much less democratic learning principles that help guide these resources. Their exposure to the internet is often limited and their opportunities for learning are much less than urban cities with technological advancements. Not only are these citizens ill-equipped for learning, they are disenfranchised and marginalized by their lack of access to express and publish their voice in an authentic media format.
In addition, as education is rapidly expanding into cyber-space and virtual worlds, students in rural locations are unfortunately still being left out of the opportunity to attend classes that could advance their awareness and aptitude for learning within cyber platforms, due to lack of broadband in their communities. It is imperative that rural students keep up in the 21st Century learning arena by having access to broadband that will facilitate online learning platforms.
As technology becomes more pervasive, the youth media field finds that many of the barriers they’ve long faced continue to exist—and, in fact, are getting more difficult to overcome, especially in rural areas. Youth media encourages young people to voice social issues, tell stories about overcoming personal experiences, and crafting thoughtful artistic self expression—but the field must toss a much wider net, and schools must join the effort.
Next Steps
As youth media programs have proven, project-based, thematic learning makes instruction authentic and real-world, providing meaningful connections for students. Schools must learn from youth media organizations, so that they steer from disjointed, meaningless instruction, which leads to a lack of motivation for learning overall.
MACCS hopes that students, within the school building or in cyber-space, will ultimately discover and realize the power of their voice, and be able to grow with appreciation of process over product into self-empowered, actualized human beings.
Youth media presents an opportunity to help students find their inner strengths and expose the feelings and overall process of an original piece of work, develop critical thinking in order to ask rhetorical questions, and find the self-confidence to be able to talk about their creative processes. Nurtured in this way, students can truly apply their learning in schools to the greater good, and have the desire to do so, beyond a final grade.
Born in South Korea and raised in New Mexico, Glenna Voigt is committed to activism that promotes intellectual development and global awareness. She is a life-long educator and learner and the principal at the first New Mexico state-chartered school, the Media Arts Collaborative Charter School (since it opened its doors in 2008).