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Kids learn medium is message’s best friend, via YouthMAP

August08/ 2011

“Imagine if you didn’t get to see many teenagers,” says Heather Harr. “What would you think of them if all you watched was the news?”

You’d probably think they were all criminals or prodigies — mostly the former — and theYouth Media Advocacy Project aims to fix that.

“What we wanted to do is create a regular vehicle for youth voices in Pittsburgh,” says Harr, who is YouthMAP’s co-director. YouthMAP brings together teens, particularly African-Americans from distressed neighborhoods, to help create better and more positive coverage of teen issues. Instead of becoming the news, they are making the news by learning how the media works, how to create their own effective messages, and how to use media to advocate for change they want in education.

With the help of Carlow University students who have taken the college’s youth media course, YouthMAP teens from various Pittsburgh Public Schools have produced billboards, half-hour shows for PCTV, radio and TV ads, and, most recently, one-minute radio spots that debuted on the Saturday Light Brigade radio show on July 23. They now run weekly there, as well as on KISS-FM between 4 and 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and are posted on SLB’sneighborhoodvoices.org site.

The new radio spots feature teens talking about education, the state budget cuts, education reform and other issues that concern them. Harr says YouthMAP plans to work with Pittsburgh school students to keep making new radio segments in the fall.

The topics aren’t always as serious as school closings, she adds — but the students and the district have learned the power of their own words. Students at Pittsburgh Brashear placed an ad in The New Pittsburgh Courier to explain why they wanted culinary arts classes in their school and earned a meeting with the school board president. And students at Pittsburgh Obama made a film about healthier lunch choices that encouraged the district food director to offer some new items in the cafeteria, Harr reports.

“It gives more gravity to their opinions,” she says of these student productions. “Sometimes they say, we’re tired of pizza — we’d like some broccoli. So it’s surprising.”

Writer: Marty Levine

Source: Heather Harr, YouthMAP