Am I Next?: Youth Activism and School Gun Violence Documentary

The official poster for the BMHS/BATV documentary, Am I Next?

The official poster for the BMHS/BATV documentary, Am I Next?

Am I Next? is a short documentary focusing on student opinions and activism in Billerica, MA around the topic of school gun violence.

The goal of the documentary is to provide Billerica’s high school students a space to have their voices heard, advance their knowledge of video production, and explore different viewpoints on gun violence.

Group members of this project performed interviews with Billerica Memorial High School students in group and individual settings as well as researched local and national reactions to school gun violence. Our project collaborators also filmed the BMHS student walkout, researched the history of school gun violence in the U.S., and compiled related social media posts and news footage to enhance the audience’s understanding of the topic. Through this project, we hope to create dialogue between students and community members about how different populations in our society react to gun violence in school settings and how we can move forward to ensure these events don’t continue to occur.

Here are the links to the project slides, the case study, and the extended trailer for the documentary.

The full documentary will be out Fall 2018 and available through Billerica Access Television.

Student Documentary Planning Workshop

I held a workshop with two of my codesigners/high school video club members to work out the structure of the school gun violence documentary as well as to discuss what material we had and what we still needed to get. The workshop was extremely productive! It resulted not only in a clearly defined “flow” for the film, but also provided a space to parse out the aesthetic of the film. We discussed possible graphics, camera shots, and how we can use audio to convey transitions between the various sections of the piece.

In order to allow space for my students to voice their opinions about where they see the direction of the film going, I made sure to structure the workshop in a way that would be more fluid than rigid. Although the workshop guide divides out the workshop into three sections, the actual workshop I facilitated was more of an organic conversation and planning session rather than a rigidly timed workshop.

Going forward, we will be meeting twice a week along with regular check ins to make sure we stay on task. The two students will schedule additional interviews, gather footage from other local and national protests, assist with filming B roll, and edit together footage. We will continue to define roles as the process continues and make this experience as collaborative as possible. I’m very excited to see how all this turns out!

Our "storyboard flowchart" for the documentary.

Our “storyboard flowchart” for the documentary.

Learning Goals Reflection

The project I had in mind at the beginning of the codesign studio has completely transformed, however, it has definitely changed for the better. Initially, I had hoped to do a project that would engage students in town government and help them understand what articles/issues are discussed at town government meetings. Primarily, though, the goal was to allow a space where students could not only learn about local processes, but also voice concerns they have as citizens of Billerica.

The project quickly shifted after the Parkland shooting. Many of the high school students I work with at BATV were interested in discussing gun violence and gaining a better understanding about this topic. It became clear that they were looking for a space to talk about their opinions and feelings around gun violence and adult responses to school shootings. This has since developed into a short documentary film featuring footage from the walkout BMHS students did in March as well as a variety of interviews, social media posts, and other forms of student discussions. Several students have also become heavily involved in the planning process and will be assisting with editing as well.

Although the subject matter of the project has shifted, the general concept of the project has remained the same: engaging Billerica youth in local issues and allowing them space to be heard. I am excited to see where the documentary goes and how this process can not only benefit my understanding of codesign, but also benefit the students I’m working with as well.

In terms of lingering questions, I continue to struggle with how to get more students involved in the project (particularly walkout organizers) and how I can best support the growth of this documentary without stepping on the toes of the students I’m working with.

Design Brief: School Gun Violence Opinions and BMHS Student Activism Documentary

In response to the Parkland School shooting in February 2018, students nationwide have begun organizing to push for gun reform and the end of school gun violence. As an access television employee interested in hyperlocal news, I would like to explore how the high school students of Billerica, MA (where I work) are responding to this recent movement. After some discussion with my high school video club members, I have decided to do a short collaborative documentary project with Billerica Memorial High School students focusing on their opinions about gun violence and student activism. The documentary will primarily feature interviews with students, school employees, parents, and other groups impacted by student activism and school gun violence. I am organizing a group of students to help plan interviews, gather social media posts from students, edit footage, and other logistical tasks for the documentary. My goal is to center this project around student voices and decisions rather than that of adults in the community.

Photo Credit: Jake McIntosh (BMHS Class of 2020)

BMHS Student Walkout March 14, 2018 (Photo Credit: Jake McIntosh, BMHS Class of 2020)

For more information about this project, please check out my design brief and related project slides. I imagine as this documentary process develops further, some of the information in my brief will change, but that’s design for ya!

Youth Media and News Literacy

As Youth Coordinator at Billerica Access Television, one of the primary focuses of my job is to develop curriculum and media projects for the kids who join BATV’s Youth Programs. Several of my programs are collaborative efforts with the local schools, which creates a more academic atmosphere. For these after school enrichment programs, I tend to structure the projects and curriculum more than I would with some of my other programs. The typical structure of my enrichment programs is that I explain a media literacy topic, give the students in the group a chance to discuss the topic, and then present a media-related project relating to the topic. One of my favorite units is my “fake news” video project, which I have done for the past two years. I’ve geared this project towards 4th-5th graders as well as 6th-8th graders due to the demographics of my enrichment groups.

Kicking Off The Project
I begin the unit by having students describe where people get their news and collaboratively creating a list. In the past year, I noticed there has been an uptick in kids listing off specific websites and apps rather than broad categories of news sources like television or radio, which I’ve found to be interesting. After that, we talk about what makes a news source “good” and create another list. We discuss things like bias, objectivity, deceptive headlines, balanced reporting, and diverse viewpoints. In some groups (particularly the elementary schoolers), we’ve dived into discussing what bias means and why news might be bias (ex. a news source might have political leanings, may not want to be critical of advertisers, etc.) We then wrap up our conversation by talking about “hard news” and “soft news” as well as “click bait.” I then give students time to share their experiences and opinions regarding news sources. One of my most memorable stories was from a young girl who challenged a misleading article her aunt posted on Facebook, which turned out to be a fake story.

The Search for the Fake Headline

Find the fake one!

Find the fake news headline!

After our discussion, I give students a sheet of paper with several headlines. They must work as a group (usually groups of two or three) to determine which headline is not from a legitimate news article. They must also explain their reasoning. Most of the time, they select the headline based on if there is a questionable time stamp near the headline, font styles that don’t “match up” with what they’ve seen in other headlines in the past, and also cite the ridiculousness of the article headline (ex. “How can goats get fired?!”) Students typically are unable to accurately guess which headline is real, which makes for an interesting follow-up discussion about misleading headlines and how news sources often cover “ridiculous” news articles in order to draw an audience in and receive more page views. We also touch on how ad revenue plays a role in news coverage (i.e. the more people you get to check out a page –> the more people you get clicking ads on sidebars –> the more money the news source gets). This conversation in particular brings up a lot of anecdotes and discussions among students, especially surrounding targeted advertisements based on web searches, etc.

The Final Video Project

After this activity, I introduce the video project to students. In groups of three, students must come up with their own fake news headline. They must go through the planning process of brainstorming an idea, writing a basic synopsis, writing a script, storyboarding, filming, and oftentimes editing their piece. I encourage creativity throughout this process and have gotten some very elaborate news stories including the following:

  • A Horse Becomes President of the United States
  • A Kindergartner Puts Cockroaches in Trump Tower (You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!)
  • Amber Quits BATV In Dramatic Departure
  • Lack of Funding For State Park Leads To Pop Tart Forest Fire

The students really take this idea and run with it. They also troubleshoot issues that arise in the production process and work on their critical thinking skills. It’s made for a very popular unit among the enrichment programs I’ve worked with.

Design Justices Principles

In terms of the Design Justice Network principles, I feel that I’ve tried to make this project do a good job of meeting several of the principles without even realizing it. For instance, I place great importance on centering the voices of those directly impacted by the design process by giving space for students to not only discuss news-related issues, but also to take ownership over the development of their video. I’ve done this through taking feedback about whether the project is engaging to them, improvements that can be made to it, allowing them space to talk about their thoughts on what they’re being presented with and assisting students to allow their full vision for the video to come to life (i.e. When a group needed me to dramatically speed away in my car after “quitting”, I had no qualms about helping out!). Similarly, I’ve made an effort to view the project through viewing change as emergent from an accountable, accessible, and collaborative process. By having discussions with students about news sources, a mutual learning environment is created. I’ve learned a great deal about what kids deem to be relevant news, how they perceive news systems, and how they feel they might be able to change things. Students learn how to work together to develop this news project as well as learning from concrete examples of misleading news articles. I’ve also altered the project in some cases to make it accessible to the different needs of students I work with (i.e. explaining the project in a different way, working more closely with groups that struggle with the production process, etc.)

As for what I’m lacking with this project, I think I can work on look for what is already working at the community level. Librarians and teachers in the school system are already doing lessons related to how to do research (i.e. look at sources of articles, look at diverse articles, etc.) as well as basic news literacy. It would be great to team up with them and see what is already working in order to better shape my curriculum. Additionally, I think I can improve on incorporating the idea that everyone is an expert based on their own lived experience. Students encounter a slew of news and media every day in a variety of forms. I need to be better about trusting that they are also experts and allowing more flexibility in how I present the topic to them.

Overall, this has been one of my more successful units and I’m excited to improve it for future groups!

Amber’s Intro

The Design Process: Access TV Style

The Design Process: Access TV Style

Hello everyone, Amber here!

I work at Billerica Access Television (BATV) where, in my current capacity as Youth Coordinator, I create and manage youth media programs. Essentially, I work with groups of students, teachers, and community members to help Billerica’s younger populations think critically about the media they consume while also empowering them to create their own media. I’m always looking to grow our programs and venture into new project areas as technology and the interests of the students I work with change, which is why I’m here! I’m really looking forward to working with everyone and seeing the progression of everyone’s projects in the Co-Design Studio!

My project idea popped into my head while I was planning out curriculum for one of my middle school groups. I plan to have this group in particular make PSAs that center around a topic that they feel is relevant and important to them. But this got me thinking: kids are often left out of the mix when it comes to town issues and town government. Sure, they aren’t able to vote yet, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues and decisions in town directly or indirectly impacting them.

Additionally, although the “how” of town government is taught in schools (i.e. how the system works), the “why” and “what” are often neglected. When I asked a few of my students (5th grade, 8th grade, and 10th grade) if they knew what was being discussed in our town’s various committee meetings, they “had no idea” and “why should they?” because “that stuff’s boring.” The responses were what I expected, but it’s still concerning. How are kids supposed to develop into citizens who fight for their rights, challenge oppressive systems, bring awareness to issues, and generally feel empowered if they don’t know or care to know what is going on in their own town hall? People can learn about these things as they get older, but why not start earlier? Why wait?

My goal in this class is to develop a project that engages Billerica’s youth in understanding what articles/issues are discussed in town government without having to sit through multiple hours a week of broadcasted meetings. It should be interactive, include BATV resources (e.g. VR or 360 video technologies), and, most importantly, be developed with student input taking the forefront. Kids may not be interested in this type of subject matter, but if they are included in the process and taken seriously, they are more likely to feel invested in the project. I don’t want students to feel talked down to by another adult who claims they know what’ll work best. I want to help foster a collaboration between students, BATV, the schools, and the town in order to make this project as successful as possible. I realized I definitely needed help with this undertaking, which is why I seized the opportunity to join the co-design studio.

The expectation I have for my design process (pictured above) is that it will originate from the current resources at BATV and in Billerica, which is noted by the old school television set and green background (Billerica’s colors are green and white). The three squiggly lines coming from the “rabbit ears” signifies our station’s three channels: public, government, and educational. In the process, I hope to see an explosion of creativity and a re-thinking of these current systems, which is signified by the central squiggly line aka our government channel with the pink “firework” coming out of it. I imagine that lots of ideas and help will be thrown our way from various sources, which may lead to dead ends or help keep energy alive in the design process (signified by the yellow bits of paper). Most importantly, I imagine that the process itself will “crack open” the public’s preconceived notions about access television (Wayne’s World is great, but that’s not a full representation of what our industry does) and will also challenge my own ideas about how program/project design works. Based on my physical representation, I know that the process will be messy and all over the place. However, it will end up producing a worthwhile project that generates interest and a sense of empowerment when it comes to Billerica’s youth and their town government.

People (including some of my students) have told me that this project may not pan out the way I want it to, which I expect. After all, this is an ambitious project with many moving parts. Design is not easy, but my hope is that through the process of designing whatever this project becomes, something positive will emerge.