April 21, 2020
High School: High School for Enviornmental Studies
Options Apprenticeship Placement: Educational Video Center
Skills: Creating Media for Social Justice
Project: A Video about Covid-19
Mayor Bill De Blasio’s proposed defunding of the beloved Summer Youth Employment Program, which annually places 75,000 kids in paid summer jobs, has received a lot of attention. What has gotten less attention are the myriad ways the programs that train teens for their summer jobs are retooling their programs for an online experience.
Take the Educational Video Center. A non-profit youth media organization that teaches teens how to create interactive new media to promote social justice, EVC is one of 10 organizations participating in ExpandED Schools’ Options program. This credit-bearing program annually helps hundreds of youth develop marketable employment skills and gain exposure to career pathways.
With ExpandED’s support, partner organizations like EVC provide spring apprenticeships for teens that prepare them for summer jobs teaching the skills they acquired to younger children in summer camp. For example, teens in EVC’s New Media Arts program would typically use the industry-standard website and video-making skills they gain during their apprenticeship to work as paid peer mentors in a summer internship at the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation’s media labs.
In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, EVC quickly transitioned its student-centered, project-based program to an online format. These days the group gets together twice a week on Google Meet to check in with one another, screen students’ media projects, offer feedback, and learn valuable new media arts skills in order to complete their collaborative project on how coronavirus is impacting social issues that the students care about.
“In creating our online program, we paid special attention to ensure that the social component of learning did not get lost and that our practices to foster community were translated to an online learning environment,” says Laura Scheiber, PhD, the EVC’s New Media Arts Project Director.
Even as they struggle to cope with the panoply of challenges caused by the current crisis, many of the 30 participants have been attending the program at least fairly consistently while roughly half have not missed a session.
The students’ projects reflect the times.
Take Keila. A 17-year-old junior at the High School for Environmental Studies, Keila decided to use her newfound video skills to create a short documentary about life under Covid-19. Her haunting video touches on a variety of issues, from the struggle of keeping up with online school to what it is like to be cooped up with her family in a one-bedroom apartment to her thoughts about the incarcerated.
“The projects are video reflections of what’s happening in our lives,” Keila says. “It was fun and interesting to play around with the software and put together clips and then to add in the audio.”
Keila, who has participated in SYEP for the past three years, says she learned a lot from the variety of her work experiences, which included assisting in a school as well as providing customer service for an insurance company.
“When you work with kids, you are mostly talking with them. When you work in an office, you have to speak with your colleagues and talk to customers,” says Keila, who used her earnings in prior summers to save for the future and to buy a computer.
Even if SYEP is not reinstated, ExpandED is working to provide all of Options students with stipends this summer and innovating to design internship experiences with prospective employers that will be effective in a virtual environment. And EVC is developing plans to provide teens like Keila with an applied internship, learning about documentary filmmaking.
No matter how and where she ends up working this summer, Keila says she is thrilled that she has had the chance to acquire skills that can help her advocate for social change.
“I’ve experienced inequality in the school system as a minority and low-income [student],” says Keila, whose family moved to Inwood from the Dominican Republic when she was in sixth grade.
“In middle school we didn’t have a history teacher for two years. We didn’t have as many afterschool activities. As I’ve grown older and done my own research, it’s clear that there is a very different educational system for kids who are low-income and African American and Hispanic than for those who are White,” Keila says.
She hopes that people will see the videos she and her fellow apprentices made under Covid-19 and that they will help generate an awareness of the need for greater societal fairness and equity.
“That’s what I want to do with EVC, advocate for things that I’ve experienced and believe in and create some sort of change,” Keila says.
ExpandED created the Options program in 2012 to fill a citywide need for scalable work-based learning initiatives. In addition to funding through the Summer Youth Employment Program, Options has received support from The Pinkerton Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co, The Neuberger Berman Foundation, and News Corp.