Engaging Educators in Diversity and Meaning-Making

Few opportunities exist within the social structures where teens operate to cross borders and share diverse perspectives and stories. Youth media is a natural environment to engage teens to appreciate diverse viewpoints and effectively communicate with multiple audiences; however, adult instructors need to have the proper training.
As educators we often rush to the production process for fear that our students won’t complete their work, or that the quality of their work will suffer because they didn’t have enough time to learn about and complete the technical elements. It is perhaps, more important to engage youth to practice the skills of analyzing a story and the audience as it is to teach them the technical aspects of media making.
Over the years, I have developed workshops through Home, Inc. to help educators engage student diversity through the important process of meaning making in media, improving their skills as media facilitators. These professional development courses and programs use communication skills to create a collaborative and inclusive environment. The lessons and transformative stories from these workshops, which I will share in this article, provide important insight to the youth media field as we continually work with a wonderfully complex and diverse group of students.
About Home, Inc.
HOME, Inc. (“Here-in Our Motives Evolve”) is a 35-year-old non-profit organization that was founded to develop the talents of inner city teenagers, youth organizations and schools in media and communications. We partner with inner city public schools and provide an on sight media teacher/lab coordinator to develop classes and run after school workshops in 11 schools in Boston and Somerville, and at a public internet center. HOME, Inc. manages media labs that typically include 25 media capable computers, software, cameras and recording equipment.
Home, Inc. has developed a series of activities for our Youth for Social Change professional development workshops that help media instructors: better seek out diverse interpretations; help teachers and students identify with interpretations that diverge from their own; and, create media that targets change while accounting for diverse interpretations.

Training Media Educators
In the first part of Youth for Social Change workshops, we talk with media educators about the importance of creating an environment where all participants feel comfortable expressing themselves and contributing to the collaborative process. Sometimes, the best way to illustrate to media educators the importance of this kind of environment is by showing them how different their own viewpoints can be, and encouraging them to talk about how it feels to be heard and appreciated by the group.
To illustrate this point, the Youth for Social Change workshop begins with the analysis of a bit of text from “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabrial Garcia Marquez. I use the following quote:
“The children insisted that their father take them to see the overwhelming novelty of the sages of Memphis…They insisted so much that he paid the thirty reales and led them into the center of the tent, where there was a giant with a hairy torso and a shaved head, with a copper ring in his nose and a heavy chain on his ankle, watching over a pirate chest. When it was opened by the giant, the chest gave off a glacial exhalation. Inside there was an enormous transparent block with infinite internal needles in which the light of the sunset was broken up into colored stars…It’s the largest diamond in the world. No the gypsy countered. It’s ice.”
By examining this text with educators, we can begin to explore several questions that are relevant to the task of creating an environment for young people where they feel comfortable working together to create media. These questions include:
• What does this quote mean, or what point is Marquez trying to make?
• How do you interject your own point of view when it often feels like the “facts” stated in the text are established?
• How can you engage other people to think more personally or critically about this text—rather than deferring to their first impression?
• What does the exercise of examining this quote tell us about the process by which people interpret meaning?
• How might understanding the process of interpretation help us become better media makers?
In facilitating this conversation, I work with media instructors to analyze the process by which individual perspectives can be articulated, or transformed, repurposed and distorted in the process of group discussion. With the professional development workshop participants, we brainstorm ideas for ensuring that all points of view are heard, understood, and incorporated into the group conversation. We then brainstorm ideas for creating a classroom in which diverging viewpoints are acknowledged, and collaborative work that can move forward. This is an essential skill for a media educator to have, particularly when the media educator is tasked with the responsibility for facilitating the production process among a highly diverse group of young people.
Understanding the Medium as the Message
Another important issue for media instructors to explore is the way that the choice of media type impacts the total message communicated by a single piece of written or visual information. At Home Inc., we have found that it is key that both media educators and youth media producers have insight into the ways in which their messaging is linked to and transformed by the kind of medium they choose.
To this end, I use an activity in which instructors compare the same message written in conventional typed English with that written in text messaging syntax. The instructors in the workshop discuss how the choice of medium (conventional English vs. text messaging) can impact the overall accessibility and meaning of the message. With this workshop activity, instructors explore the question of choosing the appropriate media type for effectively communicating a message to the target audience.
The VERB Model
The final workshop activity I employ in the Youth for Social Change workshop looks at how organizations seeking to create behavioral change through messaging employ a multitude of media strategies to create a kind of redundancy in their messaging. We look specifically at the Center for Disease Control’s VERB Campaign Logic Model. This model has been used to design social media for social change, including a social media campaign to combat obesity that tracks change over time.

The VERB model allows us to reexamine the questions that we hope to raise for our audience based on the knowledge and beliefs they currently have, and to reexamine their knowledge and beliefs in light of the new information the piece of media provides. In the workshop activity, we discuss that one way of provoking an audience to reexamine its beliefs is by adapting or re-appropriating stories or representations that are already part of the common knowledge of our target audiences.
Some examples of such thought-provoking re-appropriation include the adaptation of the music video genre to reach teens with a health message, or the creation of the pop song, such as “ We are the World,” which raised funds and attention (today, remade to help Haiti) beyond the commercial intent of popular music. A local Boston example is the Public Health Commission anti violence campaign—aired in the fall of 2009—that was created through peer led media projects.
Next Steps
In order to lead a successful youth media program, all participants must share a mutual respect and understanding for each other’s perspectives. This understanding serves as the foundation to creating media that can speak to and engage a diverse audience. When a young person realizes that he or she can make a difference with their ability to communicate a vision for change, they become empowered and confident that they can make a difference.
Alan Michel is the director, co-founder, and board president of HOME, Inc. a media arts and education non –profit in Boston and is the District PR Chair for Rotary District 7930. He has directed and produced many educational media projects including “The Life Of The Library” with Jay Leno, and campaigns for AIDS awareness, media literacy and other health and social causes. In addition, Alan developed the curriculum for media literacy professional development and project based learning at 5 Boston Public Schools, spearheaded partner relations with community groups, government, arts, education and scientific institutions and organizations and developed access to local and national media and telecommunications opportunities regionally.

Youth Media: A Professional Development Strategy

In Boston, where there is a long history of racial segregation, social realities are exponentially exaggerated by the persistently negative and stereotypical mainstream media. Young people in Boston are apt to perpetuate these negative stereotypes because media plays a pivotal role in shaping their identities and attitudes.
What young people need is a lens through which they can see all the positive representations and untold stories in their communities, and tools to tell these stories. Press Pass TV aims to provide young people with the tools to critically process the information they see on television, to rise above the influence and to shape a healthy image of self and others.
We have found that when professional development is integrated with a curriculum designed to train young people to produce powerful stories, we counteract the effects of mainstream media’s stereotypes on youth and the local community.
About Press Pass TV

At Press Pass TV we envision a world of engaged and informed individuals, where youth are leaders and our communities are inspired by media that supports a healthy democracy based on truth, benefiting the greater good.
Press Pass TV is a non-profit that trains youth to produce socially responsible video journalism, which promotes a more diverse media, empowers communities, and increases civic engagement. We partner with local non-profits and offer innovative courses which engage youth in becoming “change agents” and provide professional skills, raising young people’s chances to have a happy and successful life. Here is an example of a story that Press Pass TV youth reporters “broke” and was subsequently picked up by NBC and other major channels:

With issues such a domestic violence, incarceration, educational disparities and transportation rights, our news stories have become tools for community mobilization and organizing. Even with these difficult topics, Press Pass TV remains solution-oriented and dedicated to giving a voice to those most affected. In particular, Press Pass highlights the positive, hopeful, and untold stories of Boston.

In our program, youth are not bombarded with the negative statistics recapitulated by mainstream media, but instead are given the “so what” and the “now what.” In other words, we use media to build a bridge of understanding from how these issues affect them to the tools they can use to take action and change their plight. Press Pass TV offers programs that start with media literacy (using games created by the youth such as Media Jeopardy) and end in hands-on media production.
At Press Pass TV we have found a way to support both creativity and professionalism in a model where these skills complement each other. We provide professional development and time management workshops at the beginning of each program. As a result, our program runs more efficiently, gives our students valuable transferable skills and results in higher quality content. Ultimately, this approach improves the reach of distribution of the content our young people produce, while equipping them to be active participants in their community.
Our professional development workshop takes youth through a curriculum covering topics such as email and work place etiquette, resume development, and professional interpersonal skills (including how to leave a voicemail, shake hands, say no, etc.). It is important to note that this success has been achieved despite the fact that Press Pass TV only recently started paying youth for their work (the majority of our work has been done on a volunteer basis).
Suggestions to the Field
Set high expectations for youth while providing specific tools and pathways to meet them. At Press Pass TV, we have found that the low expectations our community sets for the young people we serve is one of the greatest barriers they face when striving to reach their full potential. In fact, low expectations often further victimize “at-risk” youth rather than empower them. We have watched our young people meet and exceed the high expectations we lay out for them, and this gives them a sense of pride and empowerment.
Add a broader relevancy to the work the youth are producing, by connecting youth to major decision makers and striving to distribute their media broadly. Young people are more engaged in their work when they know they have a strong voice in their field. At Press Pass TV, we encourage youth to interview politicians, businessmen and artists alike, to produce content that contributes to public dialogue and fosters healthy communities.
Incorporate the ways youth adapt to your city when designing your professional development workshops. The key to a professional development workshop is meeting youth where they are. We found that our youth had a hard time showing up on time for reasons as simple as being unable to read a map or know how to use Google maps. Therefore, we go over how to navigate the MBTA (public transportation) and discuss how weather impacts travel time in Boston.
Design professional development workshops with the help of youth or with your program alumni, to eliminate the “top-down” approach that often does not resonate with young people. Work together to identify barriers that prevent your participants from achieving their full professional potential and then create and provide the tools that will support that growth.
Avoid assuming common knowledge—just because you know the difference between “cc” and “bcc” doesn’t mean they do. You can get a sense of what they do and do not already know by observing them at work. For instance, at Press Pass TV the main reason production would slow down was around “follow-up” on leads. We observed that the majority of youth would not leave voice-mails and when they did, crucial contact information was left out. A simple remedy was to create a “phone script.”
Call to the Field
Since the implementation of our “professional development” workshops, Press Pass TV no longer struggles with program attendance and work effectiveness. By setting clear and accessible standards of production, our youth produced content now has distribution through all Public Access channels in Massachusetts as well as nationally through Free Speech TV. We have quickly built a reputation in the city for our fair reporting and our deep ties to the community.
We see professional development as a crucial cornerstone in building the skills necessary for a successful and happy life. Regardless of whether or not the youth you work with will go into media production careers, teaching them how to manage their time, skills and resources will ensure success in their higher education and will level the playing field when it comes to employment opportunities. In short, by joining a strong professional development component with media production we can achieve much needed systemic change.
“Having your voice respected and a say in your destiny is an unalienable human right. I do this work because I believe in the value of our communities, the richness of diversity, and the power of our stories to transform. I dedicate my work to giving the silenced people, issues, and communities a voice.” Joanna Marinova, is the co-director of Program and Operations at Press Pass TV. With a B.S. in International Relations and Economics from the University of Toronto, Joanna has solid corporate experience having worked for Citizens Bank and Wellington Financial Management. She was the founder and president of Women in Life Learning, a Toronto based nonprofit. Joanna has over 7 years of experience and a proven track record in management, operations and development work in nonprofits.