New Orleans • Volume 3 • Issue 6

Letter from the Editor

Welcome to YMR’s final issue in 2009 – New Orleans Volume 3: Issue 6. With support from Open Society Institute, these practitioners and their colleagues met on October 21 to discuss the most pressing challenges of their work.
Following this meeting, contributors wrote and revised drafts that were reviewed by a local peer, a member of YMR’s national peer review board, and AED/YMR staff, as a means to engage a youth media rich and yet underrepresented region to the field.
In this issue, you will find that New Orleans is still in the state of re-building schools, communities and neighborhoods, with several new youth media and youth-led organizations taking the lead. New Orleans has started a local collaboration of youth organizers and youth media practitioners, which you can read about in Dana Kaplan and Minh Nguyen’s interview.
A warm thanks to all nine contributors for their dedication and hard work:
• Liz Dunnebacke (New Orleans Video Access Center)
• Brandon M. Early (Innocence Project New Orleans, Students at the Center)
• Dee Dee Green and Mallory Falk (Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools)
• Dana Kaplan (Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana)
• Jim Randels and Kalamu ya Salaam (Students at the Center)
• Minh Nguyen (Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans)
• Vicky Mayer (Tulane University)
A special thanks to Kelly Nuxoll, YMR’s writing coach for her stellar coaching and edits as well as to YMR’s Peer Review board for giving helpful feedback to each writer.
Many thanks to Minh Nguyen, YMR’s peer review board member, the founder and executive director of Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans, who was instrumental in organizing and leading the cohort.
I had the pleasure of seeing Minh in action at VAYLA-NO, where he is well loved by the community; and, I met several young people at the organization, starting with yoga and ending with deep conversations about voice, abuse, identity and sexuality.
Minh has helped foster a strong community of young people in New Orleans that welcomes all ethnic groups. He and his colleagues are dedicated to youth-led initiatives and contributing to youth-organizing collaboratives throughout the city. Like many of Minh’s youth media colleagues, youth media is a strategy that goes hand in hand with youth organizing and activism. In rebuilding New Orleans, these educators focus on young people for solutions, cleaning up much more than what Katrina took from their everyday lives.
We welcome you to join the conversation for each of these articles using YMR’s “comment” feature. You can also send feedback or comments directly to If you are interested in posting a pod or vodcast response, please contact YMR’s media crew or email
To reserve your copy of YMR’s annual print journal (Volume 3), you can subsrcibe and purchase via credit card or by check.
Ingrid Hu Dahl, Editor-in-Chief, YMR

Youth Media Reporter is managed by the Academy for Educational Development

Youth Media in the Aftermath of Disaster

Media coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath showed myriad representations of suffering and loss. While heartrending, images of destruction were often de-contextualized, and journalists from the national media and documentarians who popped in for some coverage often misunderstood New Orleans’ complex urban experience.
Partly in response to these representations, a broad range of youth media initiatives emerged in the years following the storm, producing new work by, for and about New Orleans youth. These initiatives ran the gamut of form and content, yet similarities between the projects emerged. These organizations had the common goal of promoting youth media as a necessary tool for expression and communication during crisis.
The sudden uptick in youth media production in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina posed an interesting question for our respective institutions. The New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC) is a 38-year-old community media arts nonprofit dedicated to providing access to creative media technologies; Tulane University is an academic institution with tremendous local impact, as the largest employer in New Orleans.

After the storm, both NOVAC and Tulane struggled with how to respond to the changing landscape of local representation. Tulane now requires all students to complete over 80 hours of service in the community, providing an eager population to help area non-profits. And recently, Tulane and NOVAC began to collaborate on community media initiatives.
While we welcomed the proliferation of voices within the community clamoring to be heard and were awed by the many resources suddenly available to local community groups, we, like everyone else, struggled to find our place in the vast web of the rebuilding process.
It quickly became apparent that our most important function lay in helping the myriad community media initiatives work together in order to better coordinate resources. As relatively larger institutions in the field, we felt we could help amplify the many emerging voices throughout the city by connecting them to larger audiences and opportunities, and—perhaps most saliently—by connecting them to one another.
To youth media providers in areas struggling to rebound from the effects of urban disaster of any variety, we offer some insights into improving and sustaining youth media initiatives through partnerships and the coordination of resources.
NOLA Youth Media—Growth and Challenges
The NOLA youth media initiatives have begun a new chapter for youth media production in the area—one that was especially welcome since many public schools and after-school enrichment programs closed or reorganized after the storm.
One organization began with a social service worker who taped interviews with children engaged in telling their Katrina stories through artwork. Another started by distributing still cameras to young family members in a flooded neighborhood. Still a third handed out camcorders for teenagers to collect footage of the violence in their locales post-Katrina.
Some of these projects began through the efforts of a single person or author, others with the force of national institutions behind them. In some cases, large multi-national corporations partnered with local community organizations to create youth media educational modules, such as the Pearson Foundation’s Digital Arts Camp. However, without broad cooperation and coordination, we observed that these independent youth media initiatives were significantly more vulnerable to the attendant dangers in the field.
For instance, larger national institutions, in cooperation with a string of corporate partners, provided computers, software, cameras, and phones to local media educators and practitioners to create educational programming. The partners had an interest in publicizing this activity, and many New Orleans youth found themselves inadvertently promoting a sponsor’s marketing or branding campaign. While this is a common issue with any corporate philanthropy, small start-up youth media organizations either did not have the resources or the access to recommendations and best practices within the field to help them navigate this tricky quid pro quo.
Second, the inflow of cash and media interest from government and other public and private sources immediately following Katrina momentarily multiplied resources; however, in the long run, it generated new silos in what could otherwise be an opportunity for partnership. Without coordination, many smaller groups find themselves duplicating resources and resolving local problems that could have a more lasting impact had these efforts been connected to larger regional partnerships.
Finally, most first-time community youth media modules that we encountered did not have the resources to train or work with students from pre- through post-production. As a result, many students were handed pre-scripted storylines and/or professionals were hired to finish the work once the training module was complete—often foregoing the important processes of pre and post-production training altogether.
These three scenarios are potentially problematic for several reasons, some of which include:
• Missing opportunities to teach students essential elements of, and the important process of, media making;
• Compromising the integrity and authenticity of student voice by redirecting stories in the pre-production or post-production process; and,
• Jeopardizing intellectual property rights of minors as student work is re-written and re-branded.
The focus on getting the product to market, whether to raise awareness or institutional funding, can result in less reflection around the process by which young people represent themselves. As a result, what might appear to be the faces and voices of many New Orleans youth are likely to reflect fewer projects involving youth-led story development, post-production and distribution.
Suggestions to the Field
In light of our experience in New Orleans, we offer recommendations for any institution trying to support a sudden and much needed proliferation of youth media initiatives in a region that is marked by disaster.
Coordinate Resources. Meet with other groups, youth media or otherwise, to share outreach and support services. Some organizations may have a venue or resources, such as a school or community center, to reach students before, during and after an educational module. Local or national networks might be partners for distribution to ensure that youth voices are heard.
Establish partnerships locally. Youth media organizations may find the landscape too competitive for funding and capacity building to risk collaborating with one another. However, other types of partnerships can be hugely beneficial. Regional nonprofits or other institutions working on rebuilding may provide excellent subject matter for documentary production and may have outreach or marketing resources to contribute to a project in exchange for free publicity.
For example, creating broadcast-quality original content that showcases the important work of regional community efforts that provides meaningful training and workforce development for the youth media participants creates a kind of “triple bottom line” that leverages and maximizes tight resources. With any partnership, all sides should codify and be clear about the specific expectations and boundaries of the relationship to prevent misunderstandings.
Advocate for and provide resources for academic and ethical rigor. We tend to think of media literacy narrowly as the education of our young subjects, but we propose this is an ongoing learning process that involves adult educators, administrators and academia. The goal of media literacy, for example, should be to provide everyone with the tools to access, analyze, and create the representations that are meaningful to themselves, to their local communities, and within a national and international media landscape.
Established youth media organizations can identify and provide a textual and theoretical framework to anchor students, educators and administrators alike. A media literacy primer ought to include a set of accepted journalistic standards and practices around information and funding sources, including direct or indirect financial remuneration and informed consent for adults and minors alike.
Theorize representation. Discuss issues of representation that are endemic to documentary practice and show examples of media representations that have been made about the community. Use these images to talk about what aspects of the community are being under-represented, whose stories are missing, and how can they be told. This should be an ongoing and collective process involving as many media institutions and initiatives as possible.
Encourage process and youth-production. Encourage authentic voice and authorship from the participants by ensuring that the project allows enough time for young people to be involved in the media-making process, from pre- through post-production. If resources preclude this, explore alternatives for maximizing resources (e.g., an “exquisite corpse” project where each group undertakes only one section of a larger, collaborative piece). Avoid having the instructors, sponsors, or adult producers “finish” the piece for students, a common practice due to meager resources but one that can be detrimental to the process and impact of youth media.
Next Steps
The landscape that we portray is, by no means, unique to New Orleans or the gulf south. Most youth media initiatives in urban areas struggle to strike a balance between the quality of the training program and what it yields, with critical budget and capacity restraints. Most programs could stand to see their programs strengthened through smart, strategic partnerships. And many have struggled to develop young people’s authentic voices and storytelling potential, working hard to make those voices heard far and wide.
However, the extreme media and financial focus on the region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have made these concerns that much more acute. Supporting grassroots youth media initiatives can allow a particular region to speak for itself, particularly if that region is being disproportionately spoken for. Every region will struggle periodically with the relationship that larger, more established institutions play in relation to emerging, grassroots youth media initiatives. Understanding how best to support and coordinate these like-minded efforts is a good way to ensure the larger health and long-term sustainability of the field as a whole.
Elizabeth Dunnebacke is the executive director of the New Orleans Video Access Center. She is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and has lived in New Orleans since 2004 with her husband and daughter.
Vicki Mayer is associate professor of communication at Tulane University. She teaches and writes about media producers and audiences that are normally not considered by media industries. Her forthcoming book is entitled Below the Line: Producers and Production Studies in the New Television Economy.

Developing Voice in New Orleans: The City with the Highest Incarceration Rate in the U.S.

“The hierarchical, non-participatory public education system that offers no space for reciprocal learning or embrace between teacher and student leaves many educators and administrators trapped in a circus between unvarying enforced curricula content and centralized testing mandated by the state.”
In July 2009, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed a bill aimed to reduce Louisiana’s skyrocketing dropout rate by creating a new “career track” diploma. In addition to lowering educational standards, the bill fails to address the root of the social and political problem involved with juvenile incarceration and dropout rates: parent incarceration.
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, with one out of 55 residents behind bars. And, with a pre-Katrina incarceration rate of 1480 prisoners per 100,000 residents, New Orleans had the highest incarceration rate of any large city in the United States (1).
The effect of this reality on schoolchildren is bleak. The Sentencing Project finds that “children of incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school, engage in delinquency and subsequently be incarcerated themselves” (2). The impact of an incarcerated parent has been linked to increased risks for poor academic performance (3), behavioral problems (4) and juvenile delinquency (5) for students who already faced with the myriad of challenges already posed by an inept American public school system. These factors are further aggregated by the myriad of challenges already posed by an inept American public school system.
Nevertheless, as an investigator with Innocence Project New Orleans, I have found that it is possible to build upon existing classroom work and existing relationships with teachers and students to create a series of platforms for the many youth voices impacted by incarceration. Despite the non-participatory nature of most public schools, youth media educators must continue to develop and enhance engaging projects in order to ensure that youth—particularly those impacted by incarceration—have opportunities to develop their voices in safe and rigorous settings.
Students at the Center in the Classroom
Since 1996 Students at the Center (SAC) has worked with student populations in more than 12 secondary schools. While drawing from its own growth and building collectively with other facilitators, SAC aims to implement a participatory action research method and framework for exploring and providing an individual and collective process for reflection and action for students impacted by incarceration.
SAC works through English classes—elective writing and other classes—to help students develop collective viewpoints on topics and design strategies for sharing their writings. These strategies and dissemination methods include using multimedia through a process of self reflection and collaboration to develop persuasive essays and personal statements.
One technique that I suggest to students, from my experience at SAC, is a story circle, which is a small group forum in which participants sit in a circle and reflect on a theme or concept grounded in one’s personal experience that is shared with the group. In my experience, the personal stories often uncover themes such as rape, a lack of school supports for teen parents, gangs, heroes, the economy, mentors, abortion, fatherlessness, the militarization of public schools, incarceration, and standardized testing to name a few.
As the students produce their own knowledge, they also develop a greater academic appreciation for creative writing and critical thinking. My role was to motivate and encourage students to recognize that they already have the ability to effect change in their families, schools, and communities.
The Challenge of Schools
Engaging participatory youth media instruction such as that offered by SAC is unfortunately one of the few opportunities set against thecurrent public school environment. Evaluation protocols, professionally trained teaching staff, education policymakers, administrative infrastructure, and societal expectations have become woefully inept in identifying and or incorporating a method of relating to young people on an intimate academic basis. For example, a 2006 national survey of high school dropouts revealed that nearly half (47%) of all high school students who dropped did so because, in their view, the classes were not interesting (6).
Youth voice in youth media has the capacity to provide mediums through which students can feel individually relevant in their school and communities. Our programs are a defacto means of counseling while providing a unique form of education and learning—whether a writing piece, video, or live performance—to instill a sense of pride in one’s work.
Suggestions to the Field
Include and work with the classroom teacher. In one of the classrooms I worked in, the teacher—who I will call Ms. D—was an important part of the youth media process and experience. For example, Ms. D offered additional academic critiques and resources that aided in the students to develop their writings after identifying their target audience. In addition, Ms D. expressed and wrote a piece about her own personal experiences, which she shared with the students. Her willingness to share her experience was received by the students as submission to the group in both a literal and figurative sense.
In fact, her piece compelled another female student to share a piece describing an experience that was very similar to Ms. D’s. This experience humanized the teacher for the students in ways that may not have existed in the traditional classroom setting. More importantly, it provided for the mutual exchange of critical knowledge collective self-inquiry and group reflection. Youth media presented an important opportunity for Ms. D and her students, transforming the classroom.
Build programmatic connections across schools and school types. Traditional education methods, as illustrated in the Banking Concept of Education (7), forcefully assigns students to the role of passive recipient of what is deemed the correct information. This conscious and deliberate arrangement concretizes students’ realities in ways that mirror their underprivileged communities. Youth media is a strategy to adapt and evolve traditional education methods to validate students’ realities, the concept of privilege, and systemic oppression that propagates a cycle of incarceration, poverty and limited access and opportunities for education and collective knowledge production.
Broker strategic partnerships that benefit educators and students. SAC has supported United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO, AFT Local 427) in school improvement and professional partnerships with the Recovery School District and New Orleans Public Schools (8), in order toemphasize student participation and inclusion on the creation of supplemental curriculum materials. In addition, SAC collaborated with UTNO to produce ongoing self-improvement workshops at eight pilot RSD schools participating in AFT-UTNO’s Effective School Improvement initiative.
SAC’s indicators of success include:
• copies of school improvement plans that include role of students as partners with teachers and community and parents in improving their schools;
• the production and publication of the book Men We Love, Men We Hate (excerpt below), copies of teacher lesson plans that incorporate youth writing and youth media in curriculum;
Our Voice, a collaborative quarterly newspaper distributed to every public school in New Orleans (approximately 60) that features articles written by both students and SAC staff members; and,
• interviews and written narratives by students and teachers about their use of youth media and youth writing in the classroom.
Create an environment of reciprocal exchange. In addition to producing youth media work, educators ought to have a primary objective to develop a long term pipeline of students who will serve in the communities in which they were born and raised. As part of their SAC internship, SAC students who are juniors and seniors serve as classroom assistants and leadership and literacy mentors to “feeder” elementary and middle school students and neighboring k-8 schools. For example, SAC has graduate-turned staff that go back as far as 1996. These graduates/staff members participate in neighborhood planning meetings and advocate for education reform.
Next Steps
Youth media in education can form the basis of viable alternatives to traditional, and seemingly unsuccessful, forms of instruction. It has the capacity to provide s a medium by which students can feel individually relevant in their school and communities. On the other and, if alternatives to traditional forms of education are not considered, as many legislators and policymakers have proposed and initiated, we as a society can expect youth incarceration and the dropout rate to continue to increase.
By using youth media and other tools that allow opportunities for self-development, young people can broaden their local perspective to embrace larger national and even global realities. Youth media not only successfully empowers students to reflect on their personal and collective experiences but specifically provides a platform for students to act and create change in the issues that impact them. Schools must not miss the opportunity to engage with youth media instruction, and educators in youth media must reach out to schools. The outcome is sure to make an impact on the alarming statistics of incarceration, drop out and illiteracy.
A graduate of the New Orleans Public School system, Brandon Early has been a member of SAC staff since 2007. Brandon is a case investigator with Innocence Project New Orleans, which represents innocent prisoners serving life sentences in Louisiana and Mississippi and assists them with their transition into the free world upon their release. Since its inception in 2000, Innocence Project New Orleans has grown to be the second largest free-standing (not a law school clinic) innocence project in the country, having been instrumental in the exoneration of 15 men. Brandon attended Morehouse College and graduated from Loyola University New Orleans in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science in sociology.
The following excerpt from Men We, Love Men We Hate (9) illustrates how guided self-reflection can lead to students’ awareness about larger themes and social issues:
“HE’S MY DADDY” by Erika Snowden, Frederick Douglass High School, New Orleans, LA
“It was March, I believe. I was browsing on the computer when I realized that you can find out information on inmates in the Orleans Parish Prison. When I entered my daddy’s name, his rap sheet came up. So I started looking at all of the things had a done since back in 1989. It really hurt me to know that the man I called Daddy has been doing some of the stupidest shit a person can do.
Starting in 1989 he went to jail for burglary. Alright, I knew he was a thief but in 1990 he went to jail for grand theft auto. Alright, that’s not new either. But what shocked me and had my attention was August 28, 1991. He went to jail for molesting a juvenile under the age of 12, and it really hurt me, because I didn’t know the man I called my daddy was a child molester.
So I called [a friend] and asked her to see it. She looked at his rap sheet and I was embarrassed of myself that this man’s wrongdoings have people downgrading me and his family. I don’t know why he’s doing these things. And three days before finding this out, I wrote him a letter about how much I miss him and believe in him. And here he made me less interested in being apart of his life, when he found this out.
So I went home. I was scared to ask my mom, because I didn’t want to think it was me or my sister or my cousin. So I finally built up the courage to ask, and she said, “I didn’t know that myself. That’s the first time to my ears.” So I’m thinking all of these years, his family not wanting to have anything to do with him has affected me from seeing them or really getting to know them. But you know what, it doesn’t matter how much I don’t agree with the things he does or me having nothing to do with him anymore. Even if I say I hate him, it’s not gonna change the fact that he’s my daddy.”

(1) Schirmer, S., Nellis, A., & Mauer, M. The Sentencing Project. (2009). The Sentencing Project is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Gabel, S. & Shindeldecker, R., 1993.
(4) Gabel, S, 1992.
(5) Virginia Commission on Youth, 1997.
(6) Bridgeland, J.M., Dilulio, Jr., J.J, & Morison, K.B. , 2006.
(7) Freire argued that modern education fills students with information that they submissively accept. He points out that the lack of reciprocal learning or sharing between teachers and students. In his work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he asserts that oppressive qualities are found in every classroom and mirrored by society as a whole.
(8) A historical and predominately black member organization founded in 1937, UTNO is the single largest group working across all three types of public schools in New Orleans. It’s more than 1,300 members represent of 50% of teachers in the city.
(9) Students at the Center writings from Frederick Douglass, John McDonogh 35, and Eleanor McMain high schools in New Orleans. An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men.
American Civil Liberties Union. (2006). Orleans Parish Prison: A Big Jail with Big Problems.
Bridgeland, J.M., Dilulio, Jr., J.J, & Morison, K.B. (March 2006). The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts. Civic Enterprises, LLC with Peter D. Hart Research.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, Continuum Books, 1993.
Gabel, S. & Shindeldecker, R. “Characteristics of children whose parents have been incarcerated.” Hospital and Community Psychiatry, 44 1993: 656-660.
Gabel, S. “Behavioral problems of sons of incarcerated or otherwise absent fathers: The issue of separation.” Family Process, 31 1992: 303-314.
The Pew Study, (2008). One in 100: Behind Bars in America.
Schirmer, S., Nellis, A., & Mauer, M. The Sentencing Project. (2009). Incarcerated Parents and Their Children: Trends 1991-2007.
Students at the Center. Men We Love Men We Hate. New Orleans: Students at the Center, 2009.
Virginia Commission on Youth. (1997). “Study of the needs of children whose parents are Incarcerated.”

Youth Media as Education Reform

Hurricane Katrina did not create the problems with public education in New Orleans—it uncovered them. The storm that swamped the substandard schools also pushed the city’s education advocates to mobilize, demanding that standards of excellence exceed pre-Katrina conditions. At the same time, young people who had to attend schools outside the city learned what education could look like elsewhere.
Since Katrina, youth have been engaged in the recovery process and reform initiatives like never before. Young people have been to Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meetings, demanding more teachers and fewer security guards, staged demonstrations during stakeholder meetings, used street theater to create awareness about the school to prison pipeline, and organized town halls and news conferences to draft recommendations for better schools, sharing their concerns about public education.
Their work is not specific to this region, this age group or even this time in history. But it is work that is long overdue. Our public school system needs reform everywhere—from Baltimore, to Chicago, to Los Angeles—but through a combination of circumstances and timing, New Orleans is setting the standard for recovery in the United States.
Educators in the field can learn from the burgeoning youth movement in New Orleans, as well as from the strategies that youth media organizations like Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools (Rethink) devise in these times, such as using traditional and new media to advise administrative strategies and command young people’s respect as leaders and change agents in their schools. Along with adult allies, youth recognize that the debate on education reform must include and honor the voices of students who are all too often shut out of decision-making processes that inform education policies.
Rethink is a middle school focused, youth-driven leadership development program that creates reform initiatives for New Orleans public schools. Rethink organizes press events to amplify the collective voice of students, using the media to position them as experts in schools and as a resource for tackling the public education crisis in New Orleans.

In June 2006, Rethink hosted its first summer program. Twenty middle school students who had returned to the city were brought together to share their experiences of evacuation and attending schools outside the city. Students exchanged stories about schools in Texas, Georgia and other parts of the country that had fully functioning restrooms; libraries filled with actual books; cafeterias that offered a variety of food options; and classrooms with computers, smart boards and enough chairs to accommodate every student.
As each student told his or her story, questions about the conditions in New Orleans public schools began to surface. The summer program helped students to understand that they deserved the best schools regardless of race, neighborhood or income. They wanted to use their voices to advocate for reform policies that guaranteed quality education in public schools. Rethink staff prepared students to use media to move their message.
Youth media educators prepare Rethinkers to present their ideas to the media at their annual news conference that immediately follows their summer program. Educators prepare students by facilitating conversations about specific target points and how to present information. Students rehearse the news event for a week before the actual news conference. Meanwhile, educators contact the media, write press releases, make the pitch and put together a press packet. The goal is to get coverage on radio and TV talk shows, public affairs programs, and any outlet that might take an interest in youth and their issues. In addition, each summer student participates in filmmaking for a full week, alongside a professional photographer, to launch media on our website.
These media strategies have led to some policy victories at the district level. Inviting decision-makers and school officials to respond to “Rethinker” recommendations gives a public record to use as a tool for accountability. The coverage Rethink receives from news events helps position the young Rethinkers as experts in public education. Programs like Rethink raise student awareness about the conditions in the city’s public schools, using media to approach school officials and decision-makers about changes students want to see.
We have found that through hosting press conferences with local policy makers covered by the media, young people have a strategic and effective platform to state the issues they aim to resolve in their school. The experience of leading these conferences and policy debates for youth producers is key to youth media as a strategy for education reform. Rethink supports young people to participate in mock trials, research restorative justice models, engage local shrimpers and farmers, cook with chefs, and design school facilities with architects in order to create viable recommendations for change in the New Orleans public school system.
Challenges and Successes
Rethink is staffed by three full-time employees, three part-time employees and one Avodah Service Corp staff person. Funding has been difficult in this economy and in general, only 1% of the New Orleans city budget is committed to youth programs. Youth media work is extremely necessary in this context—and schools are simply not equipped to deal with the mental and emotional fall-out of the crisis that exists in New Orleans. What’s worse, many of the funders that were once interested in supporting rebuilding and recovery work along the Gulf Coast have moved on. The challenges remain.
In general, there are not enough afterschool programs to meet the needs of the city’s youth. Rethink provides middle school aged youth an outlet to learn, express themselves and simply have something fun and constructive to do with their time. This age group is too young to work and do not have the same options as older teens. Though this group tends to have additional needs—they are just beginning to be targeted by mainstream media, they are grappling with identities (skin color, race, gender, and fashion), they are developing cliques, and looking to be a part of something. Despite these needs, middle-schoolers are very open-minded and eager to learn.
Suggestions to the Field and Best Practices
Bring students into a space where they can dream big about excellent education. Young people need opportunities to talk about the education standards they receive in local middle and high schools. Youth media captures these stories and ought to help students question the education they receive and what changes they would like to create in their own districts. Emphasize transformational leadership—the type of leadership that promotes “power among” rather than “power over”—and build relationships in which people share power in creating change.
Steer students to the media as they identify small and large changes in their schools that are newsworthy. For example, in New Orleans students typically use sporks—a utensil that poses as a spoon/fork combination—to eat school meals. Students found them to be completely useless. They recommended that the Recovery School District (RSD)—the state’s takeover of failing schools—replace the spork with a fork, knife and spoon. Entitled, “A Spork in the Road,” the 2008 Rethink news conference offered something that was interesting to media—middle schoolers telling stories of eating with their hands or drinking gumbo from a bowl because they are given an ineffective utensil to eat with by the school district.
Pitch young people’s stories to local and national media. At Rethink, educators spend hours pitching stories to local and national media, starting with a national media search and a media list based on the topics and themes each summer. Initially, an email blast is sent to 300 recipients. The next couple weeks are spent on the phone with 50-60 media outlets carefully pitching the students’ recommendations. These pitches rouse editors and reporters. For instance, at the 2009 press conference, “Dignity in Schools,” students decided to transform a metal detector into a “mood detector” at a school’s entrance to address the feeling of criminalization that detectors emphasize while promoting dignity in schools.
Invite experts in to strengthen students’ understanding of reform initiatives. Using the example above, the mood detector was created with the support of an architect that students invited to transform the school entrance. The expertise of the architect helped raise the visual power of youth as decision-makers and advocates. In addition, Rethink students spoke with an attorney who addressed the school-to-prison pipeline. She shared research and findings on alternatives to expulsion and suspensions. Working with experts increases the credibility of youth participation in school reform.
Next Steps
Youth media, in practice, often helps facilitate a process of self-discovery and the power of youth to create opportunity out of oppression. Young people are true change makers—access, tools, opportunity and support is all they need. However, youth media has a larger role to play. It is essential that youth media participates and engages young people to redefine and reform public education. As a youth media organization, Rethink is not just about influencing policies or practices but addressing and creating solutions to systemic problems that plague schools.
In order for youth media to play a much larger role in education reform, local and national organizations can start by helping students find small to large issues in their schools, getting connected to experts that can support and enhance their claim, and arranging media-covered press conferences with local policy makers. In addition, pitching to have youth produced work read in the paper, captured on TV, or blogged about is empowering. In this role, youth media can guarantee youth engagement and participation in the transformation of public education and the community at large.
Dee Dee Green is the program director for Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools. Dee Dee has been directing youth programs in the south for the past ten years. She is a 2007 New Voices Fellow and is in her third year with Rethink.
Mallory Falk is a community organizer for Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools and a member of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps. She is in her first year with Rethink.

Interview: Dana Kaplan and Minh Nguyen

Dana Kaplan is the executive director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) in New Orleans, Louisiana. Originally from New York City, Dana has been organizing with youth and families and working on juvenile and criminal justice reform throughout the United States for the last ten years.

Minh T. Nguyen is founder and executive director of the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans (VAYLA-NO). Minh has dedicated his life to giving voice to the Asian American community in the Gulf Coast region. His long-term advocacy and organizing efforts have invigorated the political energy of the Vietnamese youth in New Orleans to unite, fight, and protect their communities from government-inflicted environmental injustices, such as negligible flood protections planning, water contamination, and the conversion of their largely African American and Vietnamese American community into a toxic dumpsite.

YMR: When was Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and VAYLA-NO founded and what are your roles?
Dana Kaplan: The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) was founded in 1997 as a legal and advocacy organization dedicated to transforming the juvenile justice system in Louisiana into one that builds on the strengths of communities, ensuring that children are given the greatest opportunities to grow and thrive. In 2007, I joined JJPL as the executive eirector. Shortly thereafter, I launched a youth organizing program called Young Adults Striving for Success (YASS).
Minh T. Nguyen: I am the founder and executive director of Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA), which is a youth-led, youth organizing and development, community-based organization dedicated to empowering Vietnamese American and underrepresented youth through services, cultural enrichment and positive social change.
YMR: Can you share with YMR readers what the context is like in New Orleans that elicits the need for youth media organizations?
Nguyen: After Hurricane Katrina, the youth of New Orleans were left out of the rebuilding process. Youth organizers in New Orleans decided that they needed to reach out to people doing similar work and form a collaborative. Youth media organizations in New Orleans do not to want to compete against each other. They want to build a youth-led movement for change.
Kaplan: There are few publicly funded opportunities for youth in New Orleans, particularly as many schools, parks and recreational centers remain shuttered almost four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. The neighborhoods that youth live in are blighted and plagued by violence.
Too often the media depicts youth as the problem, rather as individuals in the community who bear the brunt of the impact of failed economic and social policies in their city. Thankfully, there is a strong community of nascent youth organizing groups, across New Orleans that raise the voices of youth in public policy debates and working to reshape the image of youth in the media as part of the solution.
YMR: What challenges have you experienced in the past 1-3 years as an educator in New Orleans?
Kaplan: Like most non-profits, JJPL has been hit by the economic recession. We struggle with wanting to serve more youth than we can in our programs. We do not have the funds for adequate staff support or even a van to help transport youth to meetings and events. While we are heartened by the huge outpouring of support that came to New Orleans from across the country, and really the world, in the wake of the Hurricane, we are worried that as the event continues to recede from the national headlines, the funding support will continue to dry up.
YMR: What are some of the successes?
Kaplan: There is a vibrant and dynamic community of organizers in New Orleans, whom JJPL is honored to work with. Collectively we have seen real change. Working with organizations like Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Youth (FFLIC), Fyre Youth Squad (FYS), VAYLA and Rethink New Orleans, we have seen a reduction in the funding towards school security officers, a revision of the New Orleans Recovery School District Discipline Code, improved conditions in New Orleans juvenile detention center, and other changes in public policy.
YMR: Are you part of a youth media network in New Orleans?
Kaplan: Although it is not explicitly media focused, we launched the New Orleans Youth Organizing Collaborative in 2008, which includes YASS, VAYLA, Rethink, and Fyre Youth Squad. We are working together citywide to increase educational equity and to change the future for young people across New Orleans.
Nguyen: One of the original FYS adult supporters also worked for JJPL and was instrumental in building close ties between the two organizations from the beginning. The roots of the collaborative began in the summer of 2006 when Fyre Youth Squad (FYS) and Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools (Rethink) attended the Community Open-Mic Youth Forum organized by the Downtown Neighborhoods Improvement Association (DNIA). Both FYS and Rethink support young people who want a voice in the rebuilding of New Orleans Public Schools and envision top-quality education for all New Orleans youth regardless of race, neighborhood or family income. There was a wonderful article written by Rethink members for the Neighborhood Partnership Network Newsletter about an FYS member that they became very fond of.
In February of 2008, VAYLA joined the collaboration. VAYLA, Rethink, & FYS began collaborating on a Through the Youth Lens photography project, where youth activists were viewed as agents of change. Then, in March of 2008, VAYLA and FYS were asked to be the hosting organization for the Youth Convening Conference, which welcomed youth organizations from around the country to New Orleans.
After the convening, VAYLA, FYS, JJPL, and Rethink decided to meet to form this New Orleans youth organizing collaborative. The organizations all agreed that in order for the four organizations to work successfully together, it must be an organic process. We decided that each organization will host a formal meeting and social event to give the youth they serve opportunities to build relationships. Since then, the young people we work with have been interacting and working together across programs.
Kaplan: Together we strengthen our work and learn from each other’s experiences. We represent all neighborhoods in New Orleans and work with youth with diverse racial backgrounds and a range of ages, from middle school to young people in their early twenties.
Since forming the collaborative, each organization has hosted member organizations at their meetings and at events, so that we learn our different styles and missions and therefore support one another’s campaigns and programs. Recently, the Collaborative had a weekend-long organizing training.
In January 2009, the Collaborative members are going on a retreat to plan a joint campaign, focused on Educational Equity in the city of New Orleans. Youth representatives from each organization have been planning the event for months, with the goal of identifying a common strategy to positively impact youth across the city in the coming year.
Nguyen: And recently, the collaboration has been approached by funders and agreed that each organization’s funds are distributed equitably and that consensus is reached on the question of the local organization responsible for maintaining money slated for collaboration.
YMR: Do you partner with other youth media organizations outside of the city?
Kaplan: JJPL is part of the Community Justice Network for Youth, a national network of community organizations working to “stop the rail to jail” for youth of color. While also not explicitly media focused, CJNY members work everyday to revamp how media depicts youth, particularly youth of color. We educate ourselves on media messaging and how to take control of the images and depictions of youth that shape public policy every day.
YMR: What is your personal vision/hope for young people?
Kaplan: My personal hope is that all young people can have the support to face the many obstacles to their success, including the negative depictions and imagery that they are faced with every day. If we are going to see real change happen in this country—which we have not seen yet—young people will need to be encouraged to get involved and be the leaders that will make change happen.
YMR: What can youth media educators—your peers in the field—do to help see that vision/hope to fruition?
Kaplan: We need to work together. Times are tough and our numbers are small—we have to scale up our impact across the board, reach more youth, and thrive no matter what the conditions. The Youth Organizing Collaborative is an example of trying to strengthen our programs through collaboration in New Orleans. It is imperative that all organizations look for opportunities to work together and grow.
YMR: Is there any stand-alone piece of advice that you would like to share with educators in the national youth media field?
Kaplan: Resources are so limited for organizations that do this work. We need to find ways to grow the field for all of us, rather than competing over scraps.
YMR: What was it like to spend face time with your colleagues at the YMR NOLA meeting in October?
Kaplan: It is always a blessing to take time to talk to peers in this field. Our days are hectic and crazed, so space to reflect and learn about what others are doing is invaluable.

Interview: Jim Randels and Kalamu ya Salaam

Jim Randels is the executive vice president of United Teachers of New Orleans (AFT Local 527) and is a parent, teacher, and graduate of New Orleans Public Schools. He taught at Frederick Douglass High before and after the state takeover and currently teaches at McMain and McDonogh 35 High Schools. He has authored over $5 million worth of grants to assist public education in New Orleans.
New Orleans writer, filmmaker and educator, Kalamu ya Salaam is co-director (with Jim Randels) of Students at the Center, a writing program in the New Orleans public schools. He is also moderator of Breath of Life, a Black music website. Kalamu can be reached at

YMR: What year was Students at the Center (SAC) founded and what was the impetus for starting the organization?
Jim Randels: SAC was founded in 1996 when students in an 11th grade English class I was teaching at McDonogh 35 decided to develop a school-based writing program to address the problem of high school English teachers working with so many students a day that students seldom received in-depth feedback on their writing. Erica DeCuir and Kenyatta Johnson, two students from that class at McDonogh 35, worked with me to design a program that would use grant money to create smaller class sizes, allowing students in SAC class to train and work as mentors in writing to younger students at the school, provide small group discussions about the younger students’ writing, and participate in school and community writing projects.
Kalamu Ya Salaam: We use story circles as a starting point. After the oral exchange of stories, students are encouraged to write from their own experiences. When we use standard curriculum texts and literature, we reinforce the validity of student lives and experiences. For example, when identifying the point of a piece of literature, we ask the students to find a similarity in their own life experiences.
YMR: What is your mission?
Randels: SAC’s mission is to improve the quality of education in public high schools in New Orleans by seeing students and their life experiences as resources to improve their schools and communities rather than as problems to be solved. Students, recent graduates who serve as staff, and classroom teachers who work with SAC comprise the leadership.
YMR: Can you share with YMR readers what the context is like in New Orleans that supports the need for youth media organizations like SAC?
Randels: SAC is really more an educational resource and a writing community. We do youth media as part of that broader context of improving schools and working as a community of writers. The current context of continuously changing school and school system leadership, continuous experimentation with public education, and revolving doors of teachers and school administrators make it especially important to have educational work grounded in students, graduates, and teachers. We need commitment to do long-term work in public education that places students, their lives, and the communities with which they identify as the main subject matter and resource for youth development and public education.
Salaam: Our emphasis is on identifying, analyzing and expressing the truths and meanings of student lives as well as understanding the truths and meanings of others, particularly as presented in standard literature and curriculum.
YMR: What challenges have you experienced in the past 1-3 years?
Randels: Probably the biggest challenge—and certainly the biggest heartbreak—is to see the state of Louisiana take over Douglass High School and push out community-based, student/family-led initiatives to improve the school. The state-run school district changed principals twice in the two years we were back at Douglass after Katrina. The second principal, with backing from the state-run district, refused to offer Advanced Placement courses to our students at Douglass and refused to implement the peer-led writing programs we had designed with school staff and community leadership as part of school improvement strategies.
In the second year, no new 9th grade students were admitted to the school. And, plans for the third year (2008-09) were to turn the school into a police, fire, and emergency medical concentration high school. Those plans have since been abandoned and the state system, which was supposed to improve the school, is now turning it over to a national charter school group, KIPP. Unfortunately, the charter school will reduce educational opportunities for the sort of students we were working with at Douglass before Katrina because it will not be neighborhood-based but city-wide.
Salaam: SAC views these changes as part of a concerted effort at privatizing the public school system. There is no longer a central public school system. There are multiple systems with an absence of coordination across the different systems. Our second challenge is the year-to-year fluctuations in funding.
YMR: And the successes?
Salaam: Our major success is survival as a program and the continued development of our program. Our staff consists of former high school SAC students who have decided to continue working with us. Another success is book publication. We have published two major projects in 2009: Men We Love, Men We Hate and Ways Of Laughing. Both books are available to read online, or as free downloads from our website. Both books are also available for purchase. Our website is A third major success area is the development and passing on of SAC pedagogy through professional development workshops.
Randels: In addition, our biggest successes have included developing a cohort of graduates from Douglass, McMain, and McDonogh 35 High Schools who work as staff with SAC; serving as writing mentors and resource teachers in nine public schools in New Orleans; and, establishing a regular writing workshop that brings together teachers and students through our partnership with United Teachers of New Orleans (AFT Local 527) and the Andover Bread Loaf Writing Workshop.
YMR: What is your hope/vision for the organization in the future?
Randels: My hope is to nurture the projects that our staff and students are developing and widely distribute our resources/teaching materials in schools.
Salaam: To develop critical thinking among students.
YMR: Are you part of a youth media network in New Orleans?
Randels: The networks we are part of have more to do with education improvement with youth media as a component of that. Our major partners are with schools—New Orleans Public Schools and United Teachers of New Orleans (AFT Local 527).
Salaam: We are not part of any youth media networks and do not meet with youth media educators very often. We would welcome the opportunity to meet and share.
YMR: Do you partner with other youth media organizations in New Orleans or organizations outside of the city?
Salaam: It has been difficult to establish long-term partnerships in the city.
Randels: Outside of the city, we partner with a network of teachers and students, primarily from Oakland, CA and Lawrence, MA, who are part of the Bread Loaf Urban Teacher Network and the Andover Bread Loaf Writing Workshop. We also partner with writing and youth programs affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.
YMR: What is your personal vision/hope for young people? And what is one challenge you’d like to overcome?
Randels: Our main vision/hope for young people is for them to a) have the ability to engage critically in the communities and systems in which they find themselves, and b) understand the value of social learning and collective work and responsibility. The challenge is to move the perception in education and other spheres from an emphasis on individual achievement to an emphasis on community development.
YMR: What can youth media educators—your peers—do to help see that vision/hope to fruition?
Randels: Educators can develop situations in the local context where they live to support youth as resources that can improve their communities, engaging in critical, collective dialogue.
YMR: Is there any stand-alone piece of advice that you would like to share with educators in the national youth media field?
Salaam: Yes, be honest. In the words of Amilcar Cabral, a leader of the African Liberation movement in the seventies, “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories!” Youth need the examples of adults and elders who honestly share with youth the experiences and lessons the adults and elders have learned. Rather than simply and moralistically teaching what is right, we should share the realities of what was and what is, and that in turn will be a big help to youth as they prepare to deal with what will be.
Randels: Make sure that the experiences and insights of the young people with whom you work connect to a larger political/historical context. Have critical discourses between young people and adult allies to keep the community engaged.

Report: State of the Youth Media Field

This report seeks to provide a recent snapshot of the youth media field and underscore the urgency for youth media organizations to work together, especially at a time when there is a growing need for youth media and the changes it can effect.
It is derived from conversations with youth media practitioners in the United States who attended a National Youth Media Summit in Lake Forest, IL in August 2009. In addition, it builds on many other reports and research, especially a 2004 white paper, “Developing the Youth Media Field: Perspectives from Two Practitioners,” and Open Society Institute documents capturing the state of the youth media field.
To read the complete report, please click here.

GLSEN Seeks Community Initiatives Associate

Position Description: Support GLSEN’s efforts in community-based organizing to address anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling, and harassment in K-12 schools. The Community Initiatives Associate provides direct support to community-based GLSEN Chapters to ensure that their work effectively supports GLSEN’s mission and strategic plan. The Community Initiatives Associate also works with the rest of the department to ensure the growth and sustainability of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and similar student clubs and to support individual advocates across the country.
For more information about GLSEN, please visit
For more information about the Community Initiatives Associate position, go to

Tribeca Film Institute Seeks Youth Programs Assistant

Tribeca Film Institute
Youth Programs Assistant
The Tribeca Film Institute (TFI), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization is seeking a full time, year-round assistant for its educational programs.
Since 2005, the Tribeca Film Institute has run a year-round slate of youth programming for New York City public school students, including in-school arts education, out-of-school time youth programs, educational screenings and intensive filmmaking training programs for teens and serve over 4,000 young people annually. Through a broad range of programming, students with an interest in cinema have the opportunity to learn more about film and about how to use film to think about their own lives, stories, communities and careers.
For more information on Tribeca Film Institute’s Youth Programs, please visit
Support the Director of Youth Programs in the year-round planning, implementation and administration of all educational programs including assistance with the following:
o program planning and facilitation;
o communication and outreach/marketing efforts to NYC schools, educators and students for various youth initiatives, as well as maintaining a database of all educators, schools, and program participants;
o curriculum development as well as with research and development of youth screening series study guides;
o administration of seasonal staff and teaching artists;
o support of fundraising efforts for educational programs as well as with the fulfillment of funder rights and benefits;
o maintaining ongoing communication with youth programs alumni;
o collection of data from all youth programs for assessment;
o planning and execution of special event coordination;
o tracking and maintenance of youth programs database of equipment, master tapes and supplies;
o and general administrative support, as needed.
o BA and 2-3 years working experience, preferably in a non-profit educational setting.
o Superior organizational, writing and communication skills.
o Familiarity with and experience using digital filmmaking and editing equipment.
o Comfort working directly with youth.
o Ability to work collaboratively in a fast-paced environment and demonstrated success in a deadline driven position.
o Ability to work occasional night and weekend hours, pending programmatic needs.
o Proficiency in Word, Excel and Power Point.
Please send a cover letter, resume and two references to by November 15th, 2009. No phone calls please. The Youth Programs Assistant position begins January 4, 2010.

Tribeca Film Institute Seeks Teaching Artists

The Tribeca Film Institute seeks energetic and experienced digital video/film Teaching Artists starting this January to work with middle and high school students through the following programs:
Tribeca Teaches
(In-school residencies and after-school workshops)
The Tribeca Youth Screening Series
(Pre/post screening classroom visits)
Please note that for these positions, a flexible schedule is essential, as artists must be willing to travel to multiple boroughs (including travel to the outer areas of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens) and positions generally require at least two days a week.
(Note that these may vary, depending on type of residency, workshop or classroom visit)
o Develop hands-on curriculum in alignment with the Blueprint for the Teaching and Learning of the Arts: The Moving Image and Tribeca Film Institute’s guidelines.
o Use a hands-on approach to integrate film viewing and filmmaking into the learning of academic subjects.
o Work closely with school or after-school site to tailor curriculum to culture of school, site or community as well as to understand school/classroom protocol and policy.
o Lead media-based classes using a student centered, hands on approach to learning
and/or co-teach (e.g. coach, model, demonstrate, observe, and provide feedback) with participating classroom/after-school site teachers.
o Manage residency or workshop assessment through pre- and post-workshop surveys, wrap reports and documentation of student participation and growth. Work in collaboration with staff from Tribeca Film Institute to reach and measure program outcomes
o Design opportunities for presenting student work, where applicable, involving school community, educators and parents whenever possible.
o Attend to administrative duties such as tracking student attendance, timesheet submission and end of residency reports.
o Participate in bi-weekly program team meetings to share best practices among schools, provide feedback to program managers and support ongoing program development efforts.
o Experience working with youth in grades 5-8 or 9-12 (experience teaching in the NYC public school system is a plus).
o A Bachelor’s degree.
o 2-3 years experience as a Teaching Artist.
o The candidate must have an in-depth knowledge of film and media-based education.
o Ability to use and teach digital video, sound and editing equipment and software. (i.e. final cut pro, using HDV cameras, creating master tapes, etc.)
o Ability to work in a team oriented environment.
o A commitment to arts education.
o Strong oral and written communication skills.
Hourly rate is competitive.
Please send cover letter, resume and two references to with “TFI Teaching Artist” in the subject line.