“Take it and Make it Big”: Growing Partnerships with Libraries and Community Based Organizations


The planning of new educational institutions ought not to begin with the administrative goals of a principal or president, or with the teaching goals of a professional educator, or with the learning goals of any hypothetical class of people. It must not start with the question, ‘What should someone learn?’ but with the question, ‘What kinds of things and people might learners want to be in contact with in order to learn?’ 1

The Rondo Library is located at a busy intersection of a bustling diverse urban neighborhood in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The main floor of the library is frequently busy, crowded with people sitting quietly at tables, silently perusing aisles of books, or sitting stationary at one of thirty four computer stations. If patrons need to speak, they are encouraged by library staff to use hushed tones. However, tucked away in the back of the main floor of the Rondo Library, toward the Children’s Literature section, there is a side meeting room, and if you are lucky enough to walk by this room on a Tuesday night, you will witness adult staff and youth participating in activities that disrupt many of the typical norms of public libraries.

On this night, there are fifteen teens moving around the space, building structures with large blue and white plastic baskets, tied together with zip ties. A small group of the teens has built a cave with the baskets. One teen is crouched down, snapping photos with an iPad from inside the cave. Another is taking pictures with his cellphone and posting them on Facebook. Many of the youth laugh loudly as they scoot around the space with blue plastic baskets on their feet, as if the baskets are big shoes. At the far back table sit three teens, headphones on, playing Minecraft, an application for building digital 3D worlds on iPads. All of these teens are participating in Createch. The purpose of this Tuesday’s workshop is for teens to mess around with digital applications and participate in a group activity that involves working on building “giant” objects. They are laughing, playing, and building, immersed in creating together, while concurrently using digital technology to document and enhance their building.

Scenes like this are changing the ways that traditional public library spaces are being utilized and how learning is conceptualized. 2 Moreover, in the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota, scenes like this are changing the ways in which community organizations collaborate and the ways adult team members of these organizations participate in the creation, partnerships, and facilitation of the Createch workshops.

The Createch program began in January 2012, as a collaboration between Saint Paul Public Libraries (SPPL), the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center (KAYSC) at the Science Museum of Minnesota, and Saint Paul Parks and Recreation (SPPR). Createch started as the Teen Tech Crew (TTC), a group of nine high school youth hired and trained by the KAYSC team and paid through the Youth Job Corps (YJC) program, a SPPR employment program for low income St. Paul youth. The TTC members worked in teams of three to create hands-on creative technology workshops at three Saint Paul Public Library sites: Rondo Library, Rice Street Teen Zone/Library, and the Arlington Library. The TTC members range in age from fifteen to nineteen, are diverse in many ways, and are from the urban neighborhoods that the Createch sites are located in. Initially, the work of the TTC began as an extension of a previous collaboration between leadership at KAYSC and SPPL, each organization bringing its own set of skills. The libraries, embedded in the community, had a deep knowledge of the community and neighborhood setting as well as relationships with community members. The KAYSC brought knowledge of informal creative technology workshops and teaching as well as a model of teens working with near-peers in workshop and outreach settings. Together, these skillsets created the opportunity for innovation and exploration and brought creative technology tools into a drop-in library context.

In the fall of 2012, SPPL and SPPR came together to implement what they were learning through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Learning Labs grant into their teen programming. They learned, through research of the digital inclusion movement, 3 that consistent spaces and strong mentorships were the keys to robust teen participation in digital media literacy programs. Thus, renamed as Createch, the program began providing teens from urban communities reliable access to technology and the opportunity to utilize digital media tools and learn the skills needed for full participation in digital media literacy settings.

The purposes of Createch are to provide (1) public spaces in the city for teens to access the technology needed to pursue their interests, (2) opportunities to use emerging technology to spark new passions, and (3) mentors to support teens’ individual work and growth. Currently, there are Createch spaces in three SPPL branches and one SPPR building throughout the city, and the adult team has grown to include members of the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN), a community media center, to teach video production. The learning that takes place at Createch sites is based on the experiential learning theory HOMAGO, developed by Mizuko Ito and her team. In their paper, Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (2008), they describe three states of successful youth participation in digital learning spaces, hanging out, messing around, and geeking out (HOMAGO). Their work suggests that interaction with new media literacies is shifting the ways youth participate in literacy learning and that out-of-school contexts can encourage and support this participation.

What we have learned is that new media literacies and Createch spaces like the one described above are not only shifting the ways the youth participate in literacy learning but are also shifting the ways adult team leaders participate, lead, and learn. There are interesting parallels between the collaboration process of adult mentors and organizers of Createch and the HOMAGO theory of learning. 4 HOMAGO attempts to break down hierarchies of traditional learning contexts and values creativity and adaptability in learning spaces. As the youth enact HOMAGO at Createch sites to engage in new media literacies, the organizations are adapting a type of HOMAGO model in the process of their collaboration as well. Librarians are beginning to hang out with the idea of being youth workers, and youth workers are hanging out with the idea of being librarians. Administrators are messing around with the transformation of public spaces so that teens in the city can participate and learn with new media literacies–they are opening up libraries after hours and holding library programs in a teen parks and recreation department space. Adults are geeking out with these new partnerships to create positive social change. They are trusting this messy, non-linear process of learning not only for the teens, but for themselves, and because of this, HOMAGO is also changing the leadership landscape and positively impacting the success of Createch.

Below, we describe the context of each of the four Createch sites, talk about how our collaboration model “take it and make it big” came to be, and then share excerpts from a dialogue-based interview in which adult team members from each of the organizations respond to questions about their collaboration work in the program.  The focus of this dialogue is on the ways in which partnering organizations are reframing how they work together and with youth. Our goal is to share some of our valuable experiences–highlights and challenges–with the rest of the youth media field so that others might learn from this evolving and adaptable HOMAGO model.

The Createch Spaces

Createch takes on a different shape, feel, and pulse in every space because each location is constructed differently by teens, mentors, neighborhood residents, and community partners. All four of the sites are vastly different because of the contextual factors that influence them. First, the Hayden Heights Createch takes place in a large meeting room with soothing colors and bamboo motifs painted on the walls.  In this Createch space, though teens are still hanging out and messing around, they have the opportunity to participate in creative projects that build on each other week by week, giving them more opportunities for “geeking out.” For instance, one youth was immersed in a multi-week video poetry project. He spent a couple of weeks working hard on editing his poem, then used the program Garage Band to create a beat to accompany it. The community television organization SPNN brings in professional media and editing technologies that youth would normally not have access to in a traditional public library space.

As described in the opening vignette, The Rondo Createch site is a small meeting room located off the Children’s Literature area of the library. It is the smallest Createch space; however, the intimacy of the space has resulted in more interaction between youth and staff. In contrast, The Rice Street Teen Zone is a busy, multi-room complex. It is an institutional public city space with cinderblock walls, virtually no windows, an angular floorplan, and is leavened with comfy furniture and teen-made art. There is a robust sense of community here–many teens spend a lot of their free time at the Teen Zone. During the Createch workshops there are always other activities happening, including video game playing, teens playing pool, cooking lessons, and art activities. This presents variety but can also distract from Createch programming. The Teen Zone Createch space evolved out of a partnership between the libraries and parks and recreation department. Rather than creating a competing teen space in the neighborhood, the library chose to partner with this neighboring teens-only recreation center.

Lastly, the Arlington Hills Createch takes place in a large, multipurpose room with ten desktop computers and a very comfortable sitting area with sofas and lamps.  It is a self-contained space with a great variety of resources. When librarians were hard-pressed to find space and time for teens to “hang out” in this small Carnegie library during regular hours without bothering other users (Createch was originally held concurrently with a homework center and job search assistance workshop), they started offering Createch during “Library After Dark” times. As one librarian put it, “Createch time moved after hours to give teens a place to be themselves (i.e., boisterous).”  Indeed, this space houses the most “boisterous” Createch site with the youngest participants.

Take it, make it big.

The Createch name was created by the Teen Tech Crew members. When adult staff from SPPL and SPNN asked if they could use the term Createch for similar programming that did not involve the Teen Tech Crew, the response by the TTC members was, “Take it, make it big.”  This attitude of collaboration has been instrumental in the success of this program. Createch is still a work in progress.  It always will be.  As the Youth Services Coordinator at SPPL stated, “We don’t know what it will grow into, or who will be involved in the future. We do know as staff that we need to be flexible, to adapt, and to evolve.” Just as the experiential learning theory, HOMAGO values creativity and adaptability in youth learning spaces, the HOMAGO influenced collaboration model taken up by the Createch adult team members continues to value creativity and adaptability as well.

Q & A

The excerpts below are taken from a dialogue-based interview in which adult team members from each of the organizations responded to questions about the collaboration work thus far. The participating members were: Maggie Struck (Interviewer, Createch Volunteer and Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota), Janos MaGhie (SPPL, Librarian), Peter Kirschmann (KAYSC, Crew Manager), and Kao Choua Vue (SPNN, Youth Media Coordinator). This dialogue focused on the ways in which partnering organizations are reframing how they work together and with youth. Our goal is to share some of our valuable highlights and challenges with the rest of the youth media field in hopes that others can learn from this evolving adaptable model.

1. What were some of the challenges and surprises of adaptation of Createch?

Janos: As Createch got underway, each site identified totally different factors that were posing challenges. For example, at Arlington the space was wonderful but it was in conflict with the homework help being offered simultaneously. Rice Street library was struggling to attract teens due to the presence of an established teen rec center nearby. In resolving each site’s unique challenges, I was surprised to see how all four diverged from each other. Rice Street partnered with the recreation center to just hold Createch there, and Parks and Recreation staff came up with the idea for Arlington library to program after hours. Thus, each site developed a distinct environment and vibe, despite hosting the same initial programming.

Kao Choua: SPNN’s challenges and surprises of adapting to Createch include the process of learning about how each site and its participants are unique in their own ways. I have found that sometimes the HOMAGO style creates a more relaxed atmosphere–and that can be challenging for implementing the media production workshops. In the past, the SPNN workshops typically have taken place in a more structured environment. However, what works with Createch and SPNN is that the youth and adult facilitators have learned collectively to adapt to the environment of the particular youth space and because of this adaptability, have been able to make deep connections with youth who are interested in media production and technology skill development.

Peter: Expanding Createch to new sites and adding new partnering organizations to Createch gave the TTC youth a larger community of teen facilitators in which to share ideas. In much the same way that the adult staff from the organizations were already collaborating on creating the programming, youth from across different organizations, including youth from Minneapolis doing similar work, have been able to share skills, successes, and struggles with each other.

2. How do the entities share leadership and expertise?

Janos: Monthly meetings and staying in touch as needed through email.  It’s been wonderful to have Parks & Recreation provide a trained youth developer to help staff Arlington’s site.

Kao Choua: SPNN brings a media technology production expertise which supports the purpose of Createch. SPPL and SPPR have the community spaces and connections to their patrons. We learn from each other and share our resources in order to bring the best practices in providing quality programming using the HOMAGO style workshop.

Peter: Partner organizations have regular meetings with shared facilitation to check in and reflect on the overall Createch process. Not only do these meetings give library and partner staff a chance to collaborate and share best practices, but it also provides an opportunity for library staff from across different branches to connect. Meetings often have shared facilitation between adult team members and open with a general check-in and update from all of the partners. Sometimes this is a quick overview of attendance, activities in the sites, and updates. Often times, this becomes the bulk of the meeting, sharing knowledge and information and adapting best practices which are working at one library location to work in another setting.

3. What were some of the challenges and surprises of creating intentional spaces for youth to make media? 

Janos: The main challenge at my site, the Teen Zone, is that while there are lots of teens around, they have their usual activities and are hard to entice to participate in our drop-in workshops.

Kao Choua: Some challenges in creating spaces for youth to make media include the inconsistent level of involvement from partners. Libraries and recreation centers are not equipped with the latest technologies nor have the capacity of a needed media lab to support the number of youth who use the space. Also, libraries and recreation centers do not have a permanent staff with a media production background to support youth. To make Createch work, we have to have the right tools and equipment to support the youth. Furthermore, we have had to have an experienced youth media instructor on site to help facilitate student involvement and completed production. I have been surprised at how willing and flexible the other organizations have been to help us face these challenges head on–we the help of the collaboration, we are now running three Createch media production workshops at three different sites.

Peter: As Janos said, competing with other programming at sites is a continual challenge. Maintaining a consistent, regular schedule was key to helping us build an audience. As for surprises, some of the best moments at workshops were when “hanging out” with iPads were mixed with the other activities. When youth used the iPads to document their projects during a design activity, seamlessly moving from hanging out to messing around and back again.

4. How has Createch affected/supported other programming at both organizations? Are the libraries seeing better/more relationships between teens and staff? Have any Createch participants gone on to join the Set It Up crew at SPNN?

Janos: The partnership with Saint Paul Parks & Recreation has been extremely productive.  It started in the Rice Street neighborhood by programming at an SPPR facility. They provided the suggestion and an extra staff member to hold Createch after hours at Arlington. We’ve also been hosting the Teen Zone youth and staff at the library for a non-Createch program once a week.  Meanwhile, SPNN started as a partner exclusively for Hayden Heights library but started working with the Teen Zone and Arlington as well.

Kao Choua: Createch has bridged community outreach for SPNN in St. Paul. SPPL has completed videos and photography that show valuable connections between the community and the library. There are definitely better relationships between teens and staffers because of a dedicated teen space. There has not been any Createch participants who have joined the Set It Up crew but a few have shown an interest to join. Accessibility to the downtown space is an issue for the teens but participants have been invited to join the SPNN Open Lab on Mondays from 3-6PM where transportation is provided to Createch participants. SPNN has only been a Createch partner since March 2013, so I assume that there will continue to be an interest amongst Createch youth members to get more involved with other SPNN programs.

Peter: This has given the TTC an opportunity to share their ideas regularly in the community, and provide opportunities to try out new ideas with a set audience. Additionally, as TTC members begin to graduate from high school and move on to college and other opportunities I hope to see them working within the rec centers and libraries, to continue to support the work they began on the crew.

5.  In what ways will your partnership change in the future?

Janos: Nearly all change in Createch has been in response to a specific need, a way to resolve some factor that was limiting our full potential. Thus specific changes are hard to predict until the motivating factor becomes apparent. What gives me confidence is how all of our partners have been committed to the program and will continue to work together for its total good.

Kao Choua: I believe that SPNN and SPPL’s partnership will strengthen. With SPNN’s current location at the Arlington Hills Library and developed youth relationships, we hope to be part of the new space in 2014 and bring our expertise in video production and support youth in music, journalism, and photography.

Peter: When Createch began, it consisted of TTC in the libraries every other week for a summer, quickly learning and exploring new content to bring to future workshops. Its amazing to see all of the support it is getting from library staff and through bringing in new partners, and has been great to see the scope shift. This increased support has meant that the crew has been able to spend more time contextualizing their work, exploring social and digital justice issues. This change will hopefully transform future workshops the crew leads.

Next Steps

Createch future goals include expanding the mobile lab content and including new technology such as Vinyl cutters, Makey Makey, Sphero, and 3D printing. All of the organizations are committed to continuing to train their staff and operating under the assumption that 21st century digital media skills include wearing the hat of youth worker. This fall, the library hired more youth and adult staff to support Createch workshops on the days when the TTC or SPNN staff isn’t around. They also have moved to adapting more “youth friendly” practices in these spaces such as providing snacks and offering field trips to expose youth to Createch related projects. The collaborators of Createch continue to look to the work of Ito and other library digital media programs to inform their work. They continue to strive to leverage social media practices in public settings and create intentional spaces where youth can succeed and are encouraged to not only use media but create it as well.


Illich, Ivan. Deschooling society. New York: Marion Boyars, 2008.

Ito, Mizuko, Heather A. Horst, Matteo Bittanti, danah boyd, Becky Herr-Stephenson, Patricia G. Lange, C.J. Pascoe, and Laura Robinson. Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. Chicago: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning, 2008. http://digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu/files/report/digitalyouth-WhitePaper.pdf. 

Ito, Mizuko. Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. Boston: MIT Press, 2010.

Ito, Mizuko, Kris Gutierrez, Sonia Livingston, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, and S. Craig Watkins. Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, 2013. http://dmlhub.net/publications/connected-learning-agenda-research-and-design.

Jenkins, Henry. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Boston: MIT Press, 2009.Pinkard, Nichole, Brigid Barron, and Caitlin Martin. Digital Youth Network: Fusing School and After-school Contexts to Develop Youth’s New Media Literacies. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on the Learning Sciences 3 (2008): 113-114.


  1. Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, (New York: Marion Boyars, 2000), 75-76.
  2. See Mimi Ito et al., Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (Chicago: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning, 2008); Mimi Ito, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media (Boston: MIT Press, 2010); Mimi Ito et al., Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design (Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, 2013); Henry Jenkins, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Boston: MIT Press, 2013); Nichole Pinkard et al., “Digital Youth Network: Fusing School and After-school Contexts to Develop Youth’s New Media Literacies,” in Proceedings of the 8th International Conference for the Learning Sciences, 3 (International Society of the Learning Sciences, 2008) 113-114.
  3. See Jenkins, Confronting the Challenges; Ito, Hanging Out, 2010.
  4.  Ito, Hanging Out.

Stronger Together: Why We Need a National Youth Media Network

Since its inception three decades ago, the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) serves as a facilitator of, and supporting mechanism for the work of the independent media arts. Through collaboration and dialogue with our national community of members, we design programming that fosters and fortifies the field and provides space for independent voices and diverse perspectives to flourish.

We serve our members and the media arts field through: a) conducting and disseminating field-specific research and analysis; b) convening the field in-person and online; c) offering leadership development and other opportunities for professional growth; d) advocating on behalf of the field in Congress and in partnership with leading advocacy organizations.

NAMAC’s Strategic Plan for the next three years calls for increased attention to supporting our youth media members. Over the past year, we have had the great pleasure and privilege of working with a committed – and growing! – group of youth media leaders around the country. We’ve been actively supporting this group’s efforts to lay the foundation for a strong national network that is designed by, and responsive to, youth media’s needs and principles.

Our collaboration with this emerging network builds on NAMAC’s history of involvement with youth media organizations, from the early days of publishing the Youth Media Directory in the 1990s, to the Youth Media Initiative we spearheaded that provided professional development and capacity support to leaders and organizations in the sector. This Initiative helped spur a survey of youth media organizations nationwide, for which we continue to gather data in an effort to draw longitudinal conclusions. The last iteration of this Mapping the Youth Media Field survey was administered in June 2013 by Kathleen Tyner, Associate Professor in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin. 1 A preliminary overview of the results from this data can be found on the NAMAC website. 2 and Professor Tyner will release a more detailed analysis over the coming months.

Why A National Network?

When NAMAC, as a field-service organization, scans and surveys the youth media sector, in many ways the field looks as it did in 2009 when representatives from youth media organizations gathered at the National Youth Media Summit, a dynamic conversation that led to the influential report, State of the Youth Media Field. 3

As both the 2009 report and the 2013 Mapping the Youth Media Field survey demonstrate, youth media organizations around the country teach an impressive array of media production skills – video, mobile apps, graphic design, audio / music, social media, games, and more – and as in 2009, youth media organizations continue to provide unique services and learning that students may not otherwise have access to in formal school settings.

While the youth media community and its supporters clearly appreciate the indispensable work happening in the sector, the question yet remains as to how youth media can make more visible – to parents, funders, and stakeholders– its educational, social, and professional impact on young people’s lives, and by extension, on a participatory, democratic society.

This is not, of course, to say that youth media is invisible. In fact, the 2009 Summit and State of the Field report, as well as more recent developments, demonstrate that the field is a waking giant. In 2012, The Chicago Youth Voices Network, a collaborative of youth media professionals embarked on an evaluation process funded by The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and supported by the Social IMPACT Research Center. Their study will assess the degree to which hands-on education in media production and distribution contributes to developing productive, independent, and engaged citizens. Then, in 2013, The Wallace Foundation released two extensive publications that lauded the educational gains made in interest-driven and effective after school programs. Featured in these reports were youth media groups such as Spy Hop Productions (Salt Lake City, Utah), Educational Video Center (New York City), the Bay Area Video Coalition (San Francisco, CA), Youth Radio (Oakland, CA), and the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network (National and International).

We can and should also look to the fact that this brief article will be among the body of work that will re-launch Youth Media Reporter as a catalytic voice for the field. As such, Youth Media Reporter will be primed to both discover and share innovative and important developments gleaned from an ever-expanding community of youth media practitioners, educators, researchers, administrators and youth. At the same time, Youth Media Reporter can be a space for thinking through how to share the field’s essential work with new audiences and potential allies across a variety of disciplines.

Unfortunately, while these great steps are being taken, the role of the educator / teaching artist as vehicle for the transmission of media education is increasingly under fire. In an October 2013 Slate article, Lisa Guernsey, the director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, describes Hear Me, a Pittsburg-based digital media project that places storytelling kiosks throughout the city so that young people can share their voices and stories. Hear Me, Guenrsey says, “has all the ingredients of a feel-good activity for our time: using digital recorders to capture moments and rebroadcast them; linking technology to physical, face-to-face spaces; and giving students a chance to use new tools for self-expression.” 4

The project organizers had imagined that they would simply set up a website to collect stories for the storybooths, and because the online platform existed, they would see “kids jumping online and creating audio and video stories about issues in their lives.” It soon became clear that this vision would not come to pass. Young people were not eagerly signing up to contribute content on their own. In regrouping and trying new approaches to generate stories, the researchers learned that “people and kids valued having us, or a third party who has legitimacy and skills to work with kids in the way that we do, visit and bring technology, programming, and ideas to them.” The researchers began partnering with nonprofits, schools, and interviewers to build relationships with young people and gradually acclimate them to the storytelling process. “Under this strategy,” Guernsey writes, “the project has recorded more than 3,700 stories.” 5

In some corners of the funding world, among portions of the general public, even among some researchers and educators, there is an underlying and insidious assumption that just because (some) young people have access to media technologies by way of cell phones and video games, that this access somehow nullifies the need for a trained educator to guide critical, socially conscious, and transformative use of these technologies. In youth media organizations across the country, we see over and over that not only does an educator serve as a gateway into a rich understanding of the scope, impact, and implications of media technologies, but that a youth media educator is also a professional mentor, a friend, a counselor, and a youth media center itself is a space for community to be built and nurtured. In short, the youth media center and the supportive mechanisms it provides are instrumental to personal, as well as professional, development.

Because unfounded assumptions do exist that equate media access with media literacy, it’s imperative that youth media – and the independent media sector at large – work hard at demonstrating the value of the work we do. While each youth media organization is responsible for sharing their work with their communities, we argue that there is also strength in numbers. In 2009, the field established that the work of youth media can best be strengthened via collaboration, the establishment of federations and/or collectives that provide space for resource sharing, information exchange, and for making visible the work of the sector. In short, youth media’s impact is amplified when organizations across the country connect and fortify a sustainable national network.

For the last decade, youth media has sensed the need for active community building among the manifold organizations that comprise the field. Regional youth media networks have been thriving in various parts of the country: Philadelphia, Twin Cities, Chicago, and recently, the San Francisco Bay Area. These regional groups are able to provide outstanding and unprecedented services to the young people in their communities because the network enables resource sharing, partnering on programming, knowledge exchange, and other practical services that magnify the capacity, visibility, and impact that any one organization could have alone.

Due to geographic constraints, of course, there are some organizations that cannot be served by these regional networks. This is where a national youth media body – whether that be a loose confederation of independent organizations, or a formal nonprofit intermediary with its own funding supply – comes in. This national body could provide a space for organizations and regional networks around the country to connect and readily access each other’s work, innovations, and concerns. It would be a body with many brilliant heads that can amplify the field’s capacity for sharing its work and demonstrating its value. And in this interconnected community, the learners served by youth media could powerfully experience their creative expressions as part of a broader, country-wide effort to develop youth leadership and bolster civic dialogue.

A National Network Emerges

In October 2012, following on the heels of the NAMAC 2012 Leading Creatively conference panel, “Youth Media Networks: How We’re Connected,” a handful of committed youth media leaders, recognizing “the diversity of practices, approaches and experiences of those in [the] field,” started a Google Group email listserv to build upon the conversations they started at the Conference. “We see the opportunity to strengthen our work by creating stronger connections among us,” they wrote in their first public announcement on the listserv.

NAMAC offered to help promote the efforts of this emerging National Youth Media Network by providing field building, coordination, and administrative support where needed. After some initial surveying of the field, the organizers decided to launch a series of bi-monthly Connector Sessions: online conversations intended to a) explore topics of relevance to youth media practice, such as assessment, curriculum development, STEM funding, etc.; and to b) initiate an incremental community building and brainstorming process to help elucidate what a national network might look like and in what ways it could serve the field. 6

As a testament to how the pragmatic conversations in the Connector Sessions can lend field-building insight, consider this sampling of questions raised in the first Connector Session on “Emerging Media Arts Standards,” hosted in March 2013. 7 In this Connector, the Chair of the Media Arts Standards Writing Committee of the National Coalition of Core Arts Standards, Dain Olsen, explained the significance of developing educational standards written specifically to meet “learners’ growing needs in the emerging digital media context.” Questions raised by participants included:

  • What do you think the development of assessment tools, will look like [under the Media Arts Standards]? And how can those assessment tools be used with lesson plans and curriculum?
  • Could you talk briefly about how you see the standards and framework that you’re evolving, make space for or articulate or sustain the enduring commitment within youth media to its abiding youth-drivenness?
  • To what extent are media literacy and media analysis a part of the standards here, from an analytical perspective?

In these questions alone, we catch a glimpse of the diversity of perspectives, modalities, and needs in youth media practices across the country. By bringing diverse voices into regular conversation, we can collectively and specifically imagine a national network that is responsive to many, if not all, of these multi-faceted needs.

As the Connector Sessions continue to serve as an interesting and sustainable model for convening the field, the Google Group email listserv has grown incrementally, as has the core group of National Youth Media Network organizers. Currently, we number twelve organizers and over one hundred Google Group members. We have proposed and presented at two conferences: the Alliance for Community Media Conference (ACM) conference and the National Association for Media Literacy Education Conference  (NAMLE). Representatives from ACM and NAMLE, involved as they are in supporting youth media and media education, have in fact joined the organizing committee.

From the great strides taken by the committed group behind the National Youth Media Network, we’ve seen that the question before the field is not whether there will be a national networking body, but when and how. What will that national network look like? Who will lead it? What services would this national network provide? Will it need funding? If so, what sources would honor “youth media’s youth-drivenness” as well as its commitment to critical pedagogy? What cross-sector alliances could it forge to benefit the field? And what will be the role of the national intermediaries, NAMAC, NAMLE, ACM, and of Youth Media Reporter in this ongoing field-building work?

While organizations like NAMAC exist to create spaces in which such questions can be raised, ultimately only youth media organizations, students, and educators themselves will be able to provide the answers. We look forward to witnessing – and supporting – the field’s continued evolution.  



Ingrid Dahl, “State of the Youth Media Field Report,” Youth Media Reporter, November 2009, http://www.youthmediareporter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/SOF-FINAL-Nov24.pdf.

Lisa Guernsey, “Voices Carry: A Kids’ Tech Project Gets Real,” Slate, October 2013, http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/10/hear_me_pittsburgh_project_how_to_use_technology_to_help_kids.html.


  1. “NAMAC + Kathleen Tyner Launch 2013 Youth Media Survey,” NAMAC, last modified May 16, 2013, http://namac.org/namac-announcement/youth-media-survey-2013.
  2. “‘Mapping the Field of Youth Media’ 2013 Survey: Preliminary Overview,” NAMAC, last modified November 26, 2013, http://www.namac.org/idea-exchange/youth-media-national-survey-data-overview-2013
  3. Ingrid Dahl,  “State of the Youth Media Field Report, Youth Media Reporter, November 2009, http://www.youthmediareporter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/SOF-FINAL-Nov24.pdf.
  4. Lisa Guernsey, “Voices Carry: A Kids’ Tech Project Gets Real,” Slate, October 2013, http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/10/hear_me_pittsburgh_project_how_to_use_technology_to_help_kids.html.
  5.  Guernsey, “Voices Carry.”
  6. We invite the youth media community to propose Connector Sessions of relevance to your work. Fill out this form to submit an idea: http://bit.ly/YqJol8.
  7. The Connector Session is archived at http://namac.org/idea-exchange/national-core-media-arts-standards-dain-olsen-youth-media-video.

Youth Media Strengthens Common Core Practice

The Common Core State Standards Initiative has gained momentum since its introduction, and is now adopted in almost every state. bad credit loans. There has been a rapid response among schools, after-school programs, and teacher educators to process, adapt, and integrate these new standards in practice, and as teachers’ associations, districts, and other professional groups find ways to connect their own best practices to new standards. Currently, there is no unified set of standards that easily match skills and competencies valued in youth media, media literacy, education, and other media education environments to Common Core standards.

In my conversations with youth media practitioners as a representative of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), such a document, shared among youth media practitioners, would be helpful to the field and a reminder that media production and new literacies are at the center of some of the most innovative aspects of Common Core.

William Kist, Frank W. Baker, Richard Beach, and other media and new literacies scholars have already produced work making the media and Common Core connection. Kist notes that extensive focus on nonprint texts distinguish Common Core from many other curriculum standards—Common Core encourages students to become “text detectives” by examining how visual, audio, and interactive media are constructed, whether children are clapping along to shot changes in videos (an exercise that my own K-6 media literacy group, Powerful Voices for Kids, calls “Spot the Shot”) 1 or detecting themes in popular culture texts. 2 Beach and Baker note the emphasis on “comprehending and communicating information” but call on policymakers to more specifically address the need for students to understand digital tools, media production, and professional development opportunities for teachers to collaborate with media and technology teacher educators. 3

Youth media organizations and media literacy scholars have begun to do the intricate work of justifying their own practices with specific state standards, often poring line by line through the Common Core State Standards Initiative documents. This is important work, and many youth media and media literacy organizations are in the process of creating useful templates for other youth media organizations. The LAMP in New York City announces that its programs align with 61 Common Core standards. At the biennial NAMLE conference in 2013, Faith Rogow and Vanessa Domine revealed work finding intersections between Common Core goals and media literacy competencies in dozens of Common Core standards. They provide an excellent collection of resources making Common Core and media literacy education connections for teachers and practitioners at their companion website. 4

The field would benefit widely from a more accessible template that makes general connections between Common Core and youth media practices at a more foundational level, so that youth media practitioners feel comfortable aligning with some Common Core standards without needing to memorize the document at a point-by-point level. The professional development committee of NAMLE has been working to create just such a document, which would broadly outline why youth media and media literacy are connected to Common Core at a foundational level, and (subsequently), which groups of standards align with which types of best practices. That document, currently in production, would benefit from and welcomes input from a variety of youth media stakeholders who have a vested interest in collaborating with K-12 teachers and institutions.

There are several ideas and frameworks in the Common Core document that align with strong youth media and media literacy work in the field. In naming and supporting these key approaches, youth media practitioners can ensure that the standards are conforming to their best practices instead of patching together standards to “fit in” to their work. Good youth media practices strengthen Common Core because its biggest claim to 21st century skills and learning is its recognition that students cannot be narrowly focused on 19th century notions of literacy and communication. Youth media organizations provide the critical voice and media literacy skills that are apparent in the way that Common Core envisions understanding and communicating in a digital era. The following list points to key areas of alignment between youth media and the Common Core:

(1) Thoughtful media production is synonymous with thoughtful communication. Students regularly reflect that youth media programs have changed their lives and provided them new ways to think about media all around them. By creating in a variety of modes and mediums, students amplify voice in ways that may be more difficult when denied access to the connected world. Practices that strengthen students’ ability to create media to reflect their knowledge, opinions, beliefs, and feelings are central to a number of standards in Common Core that integrate media and technology across subjects, rather than simply categorizing them as a separate discipline.

(2) Literacy—and all practices of understanding, communicating, and making media texts—happens off the page, too. By recognizing what are called “nonprint” texts throughout their documentation, Common Core opens the door to a particular strength of youth media and media literacy programs to foster critical thinking, media analysis skills, and inquiry about the wider world. Students who understand how all media are constructed exemplify Common Core’s emphasis on students being “familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums” and able to synthesize and use a variety of fiction and informational texts in multiple mediums and formats. 5

(3) Good students should be good citizens. Common Core explicitly focuses on students’ abilities to “actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures.” 6 Youth media has a unique claim to building students’ ability to take new perspectives and to connect with other cultures via both media representation and cross-cultural collaboration. 7

These are only a few starting points. As Common Core continues to shape up in K-12 education, it will be important for youth media practitioners to better understand the vital role they can play in after-school enrichment, in-school mentoring, and teacher professional development. This is especially so as more K-12 institutions continue to deepen their engagement with the kinds of multimedia production and media literacy skills that are not just “attached to,” but in fact deeply ingrained in, the new standards.

Meanwhile, Common Core State Standards will likely continue to change and grow. The National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) recently hosted media educator Dain Olsen in a professional development Online Connector Session to discuss emerging standards in media arts. 8 The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards is an independent group of teachers, practitioners, and scholars who are developing standards in visual arts, theater, dance, and media arts to “guide the delivery of arts education in the classroom with new ways of thinking, learning, and creating” and inform policy as new standards are further developed and implemented. 9  This is yet another opportunity for youth media practitioners to help shape and improve the scope of new standards, to ensure that the practices developed over decades of experience in offering youth media enrichment can help educators in all contexts contribute to our understanding of the promise of youth media to give voice to the next generation of students.


Beach, R. and F. Baker. “Why Core Standards Must Embrace Media Literacy.” Education Week Blog, June 21, 2011. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/06/22/36baker.h30.html (accessed June 23, 2013).Domine, V. and F. Rogow. A Media Literacy Tour Thru the Common Core.  http://commonmle.blogspot.com/ (accessed July 13, 2013).Hague, C. “Teaching Youth Media Through International Exchange.” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3 (3) (2011): 113-134.Hobbs, R. and D. C. Moore. Discovering Media Literacy: Teaching Digital Media and Popular Culture in Elementary School. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin SAGE, 2013.Kist, W. “New Literacies and the Common Core.” Educational Leadership 70 (6) (2013): 38-43.National Coalition for Core Arts Standards. “National Core Arts Standards: A Conceptual Framework for Arts Learning. http://nccas.wikispaces.com/file/view/Framework%207-10-13%20FINAL.pdf/441178942/Framework%207-10-13%20FINAL.pdf (accessed July 1, 2013).National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School. Common Core State Standards. http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/key-design-consideration (accessed June 23, 2013).

VerBrugghen, K. (March 26, 2013). “The Hub Discipline: A Look into the Making of National Core Media Arts Standards with Dain Olsen.”   http://namac.org/idea-exchange/national-core-media-arts-standards-dain-olsen-youth-media-video (accessed July 1, 2013).


  1. Renee Hobbs and David Cooper Moore, Discovering Media Literacy: Teaching Digital Media and Popular Culture in Elementary School (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin SAGE, 2013)
  2. William Kist, “New Literacies and the Common Core,” Educational Leadership 70 (6) (2013): 38-49.
  3. Richard Beach and Frank W. Baker, “Why Core Standards Must Embrace Media Literacy,” Education Week, June 21, 2011 http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/06/22/36baker.h30.html (accessed June 23, 2013).
  4.  A Media Literacy Tour through the Common Core, http://commonmle.blogspot.com/.
  5. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, The Common Core State Standards (Washington DC: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010), 7  http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf (accessed June 23, 2013).
  6. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, Common Core State Standards, 4.
  7. Chelsey Haugue, “Teaching Youth Media Through International Exchange,” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy 3 (3) (2011).
  8. Kasandra VerBrugghen, “The Hub Discipline: A Look Into the Making of National Core Media Arts Standards with Dain Olsen,” March 26, 2013, http://www.namac.org/idea-exchange/national-core-media-arts-standards-dain-olsen-youth-media-video (accessed July 1, 2013).
  9. National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, “National Core Arts Standards: A Conceptual Framework for Arts Learning, http://nccas.wikispaces.com/file/view/Framework%207-10-13%20FINAL.pdf/441178942/Framework%207-10-13%20FINAL.pdf (accessed July 1, 2013).

Book Review: Media, Arts, and Justice: Multimodal Explorations with Youth

Vasudevan, Lalitha and Tiffany DeJaynes, eds. Arts, Media, and Justice:  Multimodal Explorations with Youth. (New York: Peter Lang International, 2013). 184 pages. $38.95 (softcover). ISBN 978-1-4331-1855-5.

“This is a book about hopefulness,” begins Art, Media, and Justice edited by Lalitha Vasudevan and Tiffany DeJaynes, which invites readers to think about how youth are treated in our society and underscores the value of media and arts for youth development, particularly youth who are “court-involved.” Arts, Media, and Justice includes nine chapters from educators, researchers, practitioners, and teaching artists who have all collaborated deeply with young people in and out of institutional settings. It explores the art and importance of play, self-expression and multimodality, and imagination in terms of self-discovery, identity, and justice.

These essays highlight the need to see youth media — and media arts broadly — as much more than a final product or artifact. The chapters in this book present “portraits of artful engagement” that demonstrate how such activity provides teens with opportunities for “making and remaking” their identities. Programs like the ReImagining Futures Project, Voices, the Education in Between Project, and Journeys, serve as alternative educational spaces for court-involved youth. Citing Gadsden (2008), the authors demonstrate that “the arts and a multimodal sensibility can foreground creativity and cultivate a more complex understanding of relationships and belonging between learners and their environments than currently evident in schools and even after-school programs” (16). The chapters in this book focus on the lived experiences and stories of court-involved youth, authored by educators, researchers and artists who engaged in collaborations with these youth in multiple modes of art, with various media and genres, including video production, movement and space, photography, theatre, and creative writing. The chapters share in common a core belief in the possibility for change and growth, embracing the spirit of Maxine Greene’s words: “I am what I am not yet” (2).  They also call upon readers to “see youth beyond the labels put on them” (12).

We hear the voices of youth throughout the pages of the book. “My favorite place is [Voices] because they are like a family to me. Every time I come they just lighten up my day. [Voices], to me, is a big family that likes to help children succeed in life and wants the best out of people. When I walk through the door, it is like everything is going to be okay. Soon, as I leave, it is like the whole world is against me,” explains Patricia, a writing workshop participant in the Voices program (p. 41). As a whole, the collection of essays allows readers to see youth in a way that is different than how the media portrays them and how they are seen in courtrooms and other institutions. Teens confront the familiar stereotypes that society places on them and use them to propel their understanding in a way that helps them discover and communicate who they are. Each chapter provides powerful testimony to the importance of these art-full sites where youth can safely, creatively, and critically examine and develop their understandings of themselves, their communities, and their social world.

This collection of work focuses on the use of media, art, and play to explore self and society, to engage in creative work that pushes back against the ways in which court-involved youth are framed by multiple social systems and institutions.  The authors document with honesty and insight the kinds of risks and vulnerabilities encountered by youth and adult collaborators through this work.  They also emphasize the ongoing inquiry and  intentionality required in constructing supportive spaces that are just, inclusive, democratic and playful.

The book provides powerful stories from programs that have court-involved youth as their focus, but its lessons will resonate widely within the youth media field, wherever this work is focused on identity, community, and justice.  Indeed, the chapters here should inspire and challenge those allied with youth in cultural production that aims to transform young people’s relationships to themselves, each other, their communities, and to the wider social world. It would be impossible to read this book without also recognizing the crucial ways that such work invites transformation in the adults who shepherd and sustain these alternative sites of learning, and in the collective understandings of all participants in what Olga Hubard (chapter 9) terms “the joint growth project that we call education” (159).