While educators, politicians and public figures debate the future of education in the United States, what is often lost is the viewpoint of those directly affected by the state of education — young people. The Education is a Civil Right Challenge aimed to change that by giving students the skills and motivation they need to use their voices and talk education and its importance in their lives.
Students in three cities were challenged to write scripts for public service announcements (PSAs) using the theme of Education Is A Civil Right. Although students and adults alike often view education as an opportunity or a responsibility of young people, these PSAs would emphasize that education is in fact a responsibility of society and an obligation that educators and educational institutions are charged with carrying out.
These student-created public service announcements would give their young producers the chance to voice their right to an engaging, relevant, and meaningful school experiences. And by taking part in the challenge, the students would be participating in a national movement to bring awareness of the issue to legislators, community leaders, other students, and the public at large.
Begun in November 2008, the challenge was the result of a partnership between the New Learning Institute and the National Alliance of Black School Educators. NABSE is the nation's leading organization of African-American educators devoted to the academic success of children of African descent.
In the first stage of the program, teachers in Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta were invited to take part in a two-day professional development workshop in which they learned first-hand how a to brainstorm, write, shoot and edit a digital media project. By going through the process as students, the educators gained the skills and insight they needed to then apply the NLI project-based methodology in their own classrooms.
In the second phase of the challenge, the educators who had taken part in the workshops asked their students to enter the contest by submitting their own ideas for PSAs. The entries had to be in the form of storyboards that included a complete narration and a shot-by-shot list of photos, video or other images that would make up the final film. Before writing the storyboards, the students had to understand the nature of a public service announcement, and have a grasp of the steps needed to produce one. They also had to research and discuss the issue, arrive at a message and create a plan for using digital media to turn their ideas into a finished film.
Summer Production Workshop
In each city, the NLI team selected the 25 best storyboards from the student submissions and the authors were invited to turn their scripts into digital films during a two-day summer camp. Using their storyboards as a starting point, the students worked with NLI media professionals to get hands-on training in every stage of their production. After editing their scripts, the young people rehearsed their on-camera performances then videotaped them. They learned to use editing software to create a film and add music and special effects. By the end of the second day, a premiere of all of the videos produced during the workshop was held to celebrate the work of the students.
In the process of creating their own public service announcement, the students found new ways to use digital media to give voice to their ideas, hopes and feelings. The videos they created became part of a national discussion and movement education and they young filmmakers became advocates for transforming learning and making reinvigorating the educational system to better serve their needs.
At the same time, the students gained important 21st-century skills that lead to success in any learning situation. They worked directly with media professionals to plan and execute a complex project and saw that project through to completion. Their work is now a model for other project-based learning programs and will serve as the basis for a school curriculum to introduce digital arts—based Education is a Civil Right courses into classrooms across the United States.