Students from four Mon Valley school districts spent a year of after-school and weekend time confronting the negative images and real issues head on at their schools, and the results are impressive documentaries, says Jessica Pachuta, project manager for the project, called Hear Me 101
, from Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab
"Each of their school districts is battling some type of negative stereotype, and most of it comes from the media,” says Pachuta. In two of the districts, for instance -- Clairton and Woodland Hills -- the stereotype is “'We’re only good at football and the students fight all the time.' No one is looking at what goes on culturally and socially. The students saw this as an opportunity to talk about this.”
Pachuta is an alum of one of the other districts taking part in the pilot program -- Steel Valley. "It hit home – I know exactly what they’re going through,” she says.
The 80 high schoolers "followed the process of making a documentary like a real documentary filmmaker would,” she says. They worked with the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project at the University of Pittsburgh to help students outline their documentaries, then learned from the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts how to execute most of the production. Two workshops at Pittsburgh Filmmakers helped students look at their schools and communities and decide whom to talk to and what to talk about, then put a video camera in their hands -- many for the first time.
Interviews with the young documentarians can be heard here
. The films will debut on July 15 at 6 p.m. at Community College of Allegheny County.
Clairton's doc, Bleed Orange and Black
, shows the way students see their community changing and how crime and safety and other issues affect everyone in the community. Steel Valley's The Study of Success
takes a local negative -- concern that students from a particular district neighborhood experience low graduation and college entrance rates -- and turned that into a positive message: No matter where you are from, you can’t let it hurt your chances to achieve success.
Woodland Hills students worked on several documentaries, including one on the way positive student-teacher interactions can improve student achievement. And McKeesport students produced three films, including a piece on the function of role models, which made the older students realize that they have to be role models today for the younger kids.
“It was challenging to ask teenagers to take a mature look at themselves and where they come from," says Pachuta. "It is an incredibly vulnerable thing. But they opened up so much."
While the students learned the technical skills of using cameras, audio equipment and lighting, they also learned a lot of interpersonal skills while having to ask tough questions of school administrators and community officials. Pachuta says Hear Me 101 will continue next year with the same school districts: “We started such a great thing here. These kids don’t want to stop talking about these issues.”
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Jessica Pachuta, Hear Me 101