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Media lab program expanding to 27 more schools

Photo: Brianna Spause

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

With more than 1,000 middle and high school students completing WHYY’s Youth Documentary Workshops each year, the program has outgrown its home at WHYY headquarters.

To help increase student access to media arts production, the School District has teamed up with WHYY to bring Media Labs to 27 schools over the next three years. This expansion will provide video storytelling workshops and professional training to more than 700 students throughout the District.

The $1.7 million project was made possible in part by a $751,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation. Students and teachers recently gathered at Dobbins Career & Technical High School for a ribbon-cutting event to mark the program’s expansion.

“Understanding media and technology is such an important skill today,” said WHYY president and CEO William Marrazzo in a release. “WHYY’s media labs offer students new ways of expressing themselves and engaging with core subject matter while they are learning skills to prepare them for an ever-changing and competitive job market.”

One middle school and four high schools opened Media Labs this school year: Austin Meehan Middle School, Academy at Palumbo, Dobbins, Franklin Learning Center, and the U School. WHYY will add 10 more schools for the 2016-17 school year and an additional 12 schools for the 2017-18 school year.

Each school gets six media kits that include computers with professional editing software, cameras, microphones, tripods, and a trained WHYY instructor on board to offer training in creating documentaries and news stories.

“The students who participate in these programs will learn more than just how to shoot and edit video,” said Craig Santoro, director of educational programs at WHYY.

“They will learn new ways of telling stories. They’ll learn to conduct research and work in teams. They’ll learn how to solve problems and organize complex projects. Ultimately, when they see these projects through to their conclusion, they’ll have a better sense of themselves as people who can do things and solve problems,” he said.

The Media Labs, which were piloted in 2014 at Girls’ High and Kensington International Business High School, produced data showing that media production is an effective educational tool across the board.

According to a study by Research for Better Schools, a nonprofit research firm that focuses on education in the Mid-Atlantic states, 70 percent of the students using these kinds of media labs in schools indicated increased media literacy skills, 80 percent reported gains in listening skills, and 60 percent reported gains in writing effective sentences and paragraphs.

Sinae MacRyan, a freshman at Dobbins, said she is interested in creating documentary and narrative films. MacRyan said she was looking for an outlet to express herself, and the access to technology provided by the media labs is what caught her interest.

“The coolest part is just having the experience, and actually getting the chance to use a camera,” she said. “I’ve never used a camera before, so it’s exciting to me.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Superintendent William Hite suggested that students could work in the labs to create content for the re-launch of the School District’s television station, PSTV.

Shawn McCaney, director of creative communities and national initiatives with the William Penn Foundation, said at the ceremony that “media arts is, unfortunately, a rare offering in schools these days.” He cited the positive feedback from students during the pilot phase of the program as incentive for William Penn to support the 27-school expansion.

“We’re particularly excited about this program because it combines media technology with the arts and gives students skills that can prepare them for their future lives.”

Brianna Spause is an intern at the Notebook.

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