High School Digital Storytelling Workshop

When most of us leave high school, we never look back. For a week this summer (June 18-22), however, I spent 24 hours a day with 29 high school students.

Crazy? Yes.

Rewarding? More than I ever could have imagined.

I was a student mentor for Loyola’s School of Communication High School Digital Storytelling Workshop.  Teenagers from all over the Chicago area (and even one from Kansas City) moved onto Loyola’s Water Tower Campus for five days to learn the ins and outs of writing, photography, audio and video, all while getting a taste of life in college and in Chicago. The application process was pretty serious: they had to have teacher recommendations, a good GPA and writing samples. Needless to say, we ended up with a pretty talented group.

Each morning we started off with a session taught by a Loyola professor on either writing, video or audio. In the afternoon, each of the student mentors (there were three of us) and each of the professors took a group of five students to an iconic neighborhood or landmark in Chicago to do some original reporting using these digital media tools.

My group, “The Sprites” (creatively named after our lunch beverage du jour), went to Wrigleyville, Chinatown and Oak St. beach. Though at first it was a challenge for the students to go up to strangers and ask about their day at said landmark, by the third day I couldn’t believe how much they had improved, both in confidence in interviewing and technical skill.  These kids talked to a beach massage therapist, an ice cream vendor, store owners, firefighters and countless tourists. I was there for support, but after they got over their initial qualms about asking for interviews, I really just made sure no one got lost.

Though they were turned down for interviews quite a bit, I think this was a great lesson for budding journalists: there are a lot of people who won’t talk to you, so either you need to find a better way to approach them, or just move on to the next person. Each of the kids said they felt they improved on this skill quite a bit, and that is something I really only got comfortable with after I went to college.  They have quite a start on the J-school competition!

Each night they also had the chance to check out something in Chicago, both media and tourist related.  They got to announce a song, live on WLUW 88.7 FM, sit on a live taping of Chicago Tonight on WTTW and see the Navy Pier fireworks from the John Hancock Observatory.  Not a bad trip to the city.

Something I will always take with me, however, was not in the original plan.  After the trip to the Hancock Observatory to watch the fireworks, one of our professors had a little surprise for the kids: they would be filming a late night music video on Michigan Ave.  Though the kids were a bit tired from the week, they rallied and stayed out in the city past midnight, dancing and singing to “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden and Whitehead.  Ultimately, many of the kids said it was one of the best experiences of the week. The end result can be seen here.

The last two days, the focus turned all digital. Uploading, rendering, Final Cut Pro, Google Maps and more dominated everyone’s time.  Though this process often isn’t nearly as fun as capturing the stories, these skills are absolutely indispensable to any fledgling journalists’ toolbox. By the end of this week, they had created an entire website of content with blog posts, videos, photos and even a Google Map putting their stories in the context of Chicago.  The Summer Stories website can be found here.

Leading high school camps can be exhausting, but at the end of this week I only felt invigorated. These kids, only armed with recorders and enthusiasm, had found stories in places most people simply walk past without a second thought everyday. It reminded me that even the most ignored (or traveled) destinations can hide extraordinary stories, which can be easy to forget in the daily grind. For me, it was also cool to be the journalism “expert” per se: though I have had multiple leadership roles on campus, this was the first one where I actually got to show off what I have learned in my last three years.  Which turns out is quite a bit.  It is always good to take a second away from looking toward the future, and reflect on what you’ve accomplished in the past.

Speaking of discernment, I also had to act as an RA for the week (the kids stayed in Baumhart Hall for the week, so did the Loyola mentors). Though the kids were great, let’s just say a career in residence life is not in my future. Good to know as well.

I am still in touch with several of the students from the workshop (many of whom have expressed interest in Loyola as they start the college search), and I know they are all going to move on to do great things. This was definitely a highlight of my summer.

I also wrote a little story about the week for Inside Loyola. Check that out here.

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