Facing History and WNYC Team Up to Produce Teen Journalists
NEW YORK CITY – At the heart of many Facing History and Ourselves lessons is one thing: an individual story.
This year, 16 New York City public high school students embarked on a pilot project with Facing History and New York Public Radio’s Radio Rookies program to tell their own stories and the stories of their communities – on the air, as reporters, and in their own voices. Part of the HIVE Learning Network NYC, the project led the students on an intensive, three-month journalistic exploration of identity and membership.
Radio Rookies is a New York Public Radio (WNYC) initiative that provides teenagers with the tools and training needed to create radio stories about themselves, their communities, and their world. This fall, Radio Rookies partnered with Facing History in New York for “Neighborhood to Neighborhood,” a project in which students from two city high schools – Vanguard and the High School for Global Citizenship – met after school and on Saturdays to explore their communities and develop journalistic skills. The goal was to identify a story and tell it from a teen’s perspective – a voice rarely heard on radio or television news, or in newspapers or magazines.
The project kicked off in October, 2011, and continued over the course of the next few months as students worked with WNYC’s radio journalists and producers to build basic reporting skills. Students learned how to develop a story idea, use a recorder during an interview, and digitally edit audio. They focused on two New York City communities, Crown Heights and the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where they spoke with residents, business owners, and fellow students. Over the course of the project, the students documented their ideas and research on a shared blog. This format allowed them to discuss their work online with each other and Radio Rookies and Facing History staff, use tools like the photo sharing website Flickr, and explore the online presence of various news media outlets.
“We’re really trying to encourage young people to become engaged in what’s around them, in what affects their lives,” said Kaari Pitkin, senior producer at Radio Rookies. “We want them actively questioning their neighbors, what’s in front of them.”
In small teams, the students produced six finished pieces – audio/visual slideshows that ranged in topic from gun violence and stop-and-frisk policies, religious identity and stereotypes, life in public housing, and a creative alternative to one school’s no-cell phone policy.
The project officially ended in late February with a weeknight screening of the completed pieces and a “graduation” ceremony at WNYC’s headquarters on Varick Street.
“It gave me a chance to really just say what I feel about a certain situation,” Vincent Marrero, a sophomore at Vanguard High School, said while setting the studio up for the graduation. “I felt like I had a voice, like what I had to say mattered. I don’t think a lot of people get a chance to do that.” Marrero’s piece focuses on stop-and-frisk policies. As a student who was once stopped and frisked by a New York City police officer, he was interested in starting a conversation on the practice. “I wanted to know what other people think,” he said. “People were saying there had to be a better process to it. . . . the way stop and frisk was happening was making a lot of people uncomfortable. So we really tried to get out there, to interview and hear both sides. . . . Finding out what other people thought surprised me because not everyone felt the same way.”
At the graduation ceremony, the students cheered their peers’ work and celebrated with Rookies staff, family and friends, and representatives from the Facing History team. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Winnie Guo, whose slideshow is called “A Public Housing Education.” “There’s no class in school that asks you to learn through audio.”
“By going out into New York, into neighborhoods that are not necessarily their own, these students get a perspective on community, on their peers and experiences, and how that fits into a greater New York,” said Courtney Stein, associate producer at Radio Rookies.
Though the program has ended, the lessons learned and the stories produced will live on. After the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in March, Marrero’s “Stop and Frisk” piece was picked up by the Huffington Post and NPR. And on May 8, Facing History, in partnership with Radio Rookies and the New York Times’ SchoolBook, will host a teacher event at WNYC’s Greene Space for educators who want to think about using student voice in the classroom. Participants will see excerpts from “Neighborhood to Neighborhood” stories and Facing History staff will lead workshops and break out discussions on creative ways to bring the outside world into the classroom – and how to bring classrooms outside and into the world.
“Our hope is that these tools – interviewing, production, writing, reporting, editing – and these stories will be useful in the future for teachers,” said Stacy Abramson, director of operations and strategic partnerships in Facing History’s New York office. “Here you’ve got student-produced, student-voiced content that focuses on Facing History’s key themes and ideas.”
Facing History and Radio Rookies hope to partner again next year to bring another group of students through the “Neighborhood to Neighborhood” program.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to understand a slice of the real world – of a young person’s perspective in a city,” said Peter Nelson, director of Facing History’s New York office. “And it’s a learning opportunity for adults, who don’t have any idea how difficult it is for young people to have their voices heard.”
“I think a lot of people pay attention to this area, to media,” Marerro said before heading home from the graduation ceremony. “I think what we’re doing here is actually very important.”
Learn more about our work in New York.
Support for The Neighborhood to Neighborhood Project comes from the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund, a collaborative fund started by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The New York Community Trust.
The Hive Learning Network is a community of civic and cultural institutions dedicated to transforming the learning landscape, and creating opportunities for youth to explore their interests in virtual and physical spaces. Through the Hive, youth will have multiple, continuous and connected opportunities to explore their intellectual and skill-based interests.
Facing History's Julia Rappaport wrote this article. For questions or tips on what Facing History is doing in your community, email her at Julia_Rappaport@facing.org