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Student Union workshop trains students to tell school stories

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

The Philadelphia Student Union has been running a multimedia workshop series called Yearbook PHL, which uses student narratives to compile snapshots of how teens are experiencing their schools.

“People have a certain idea of what schools are like, but the only people who actually know what it’s like in school are the people that go to school,” said Mahala Papadopoulos, a Masterman 10th grader.

In the workshops, students use photography, filmmaking, and blogging to describe school experiences. Available to any District high school student, the workshops will take place on select Tuesdays and Saturdays until the end of the school year. Students do not need to attend sessions sequentially.

“We’re here to help not only train the kids on how to have the skills to make media – we want to encourage them and create an environment where they create media that is exploring the budget crisis,” said Sarah Milinski, a program facilitator.

The different forms of media serve as tools for students to use in critically examining what is happening in schools, said Milinski. Students are also exploring subjects like over-policing and schools not following disciplinary codes, she said.

Papadopoulos said she joined the class to pursue her interest in photography. “I want to try to help people understand what it’s like in our schools via photo narrative."

In the first class, held March 17, students practiced using their camera phones as devices for documentation, said Papadopoulos, because not every student has a large camera to use.

They have also learned film basics such as how to set up shots and camera angles and record interviews.

Milinski and her co-facilitator, Lendl Tellington, have backgrounds in teaching and filmmaking.

The students “are getting media skills, but they’re getting those skills as a means to amplify their voices,” Milinski said.

After the program, the student narratives will be posted on the Yearbook PHL website run by PSU. The prompts used throughout the course will be available for other teachers to use, and they can add their students’ stories to the site.

To create a collective narrative by students from all around the city, PSU is also accepting films, photos, and video blogs related to these topics from District high school students, even if they do not attend the workshops.

“It is an unprecedented time for education in Philadelphia, where we’ve come to a point of crisis in our school system, and I think that making sure people understand how this affects students and their lives is important,” Milinski said.

To sign up, submit stories, or learn more about Yearbook PHL, contact Beth Patel at beth@phillystudentunion.org.