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YMAP puts kids on the media map, advocating for school causes

Marty Levine
May08/ 2014

Ninth graders from Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg have taken on new projects advocating for healthier schools, more arts education and other improvements to their districts, thanks to the year-long YMAP project.

YMAP – the Youth Media Advocacy Project – teaches local high school students how to use the media to gain a voice in the community, and helps them hone ideas for advocacy campaigns that will aid their schools and communities. More than 75 ninth graders from Pittsburgh Barack Obama Academy for International Studies, Pittsburgh Brashear High School and Wilkinsburg High School presented these project ideas to the community at Carlow University on April 25. YMAP is a collaboration of Carlow, SLB Radio Productions and The Consortium for Public Education and funded by the Heinz Endowments.

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“The more we actually see or hear stories about our young people, the more the community will engage with them,” says Jennifer Snyder-Duch, YMAP co-director and a Carlow communication faculty member. Professors from her department, as well as the social work department, train Carlow students to act as “near-peer mentors” to the kids in YMAP, teaching them media practices, education issues and advocacy skills. Staff from SLB Radio help them develop and broadcast media messages, on the radio as well as on billboards and other advertising outlets.

“Students do want a better world,” she says. But when YMAP looked at the portrayal of kids in local news in 2010, when it began, it found kids in just seven percent of stories, and almost none of them showed young people in a good light.

“We realize for kids to get their voices out, they need to make a plan for how they are going to use the media,” she says. She hopes YMAP will have “a spiral effect, where kids are more engaged because they see themselves being more engaged. That’s what guides our project.”

Among this year’s advocacy ideas by students were three by Obama students. One group collaborated with the local chapter of the national childhood fitness program Let’s Move to push for more nutritional cafeteria offerings in their school. Another Obama group formed ASAP (Association of Student Artists in Pittsburgh) to urge more arts education in the district. A third group of students from that school advocated for better, turf athletic fields. A group of ninth-grade girls in Wilkinsburg teamed with a local church to create a new mentoring program for middle-school girls.

“They were extremely proud of their work,” reports Chanessa Schuler, who worked with YMAP kids at SLB Radio. “They realize that they do have a voice and that they can change things – there’s just a process. When they present their ideas to the community, they are pretty proud and confident and they can carry that skill with them forever. They understand that process of change.”

Snyder-Duch says that the program is looking to create a more formal connection with the kids once the one-year program ends – perhaps a YMAP2 – to help them sustain momentum on their projects.

Marty Levine