Adrian Belic and Just Think Youth Media Educators

Susan Gerhard July 26, 2006

“Beyond the Call” was the name of the film that the Just Think’s Youth Media Educators were training on at SOMARTS last Friday afternoon. Maybe “beyond the call” also described the work filmmaker Adrian Belic was carrying out that day. He’d stopped by for the afternoon to help a group of young adults learn about documentary filmmaking in a program designed to offer employment-ready media skills to under-served high schoolers from the Bay Area.

Belic’s brand of life-and-death nonfiction filmmaking probably should have scared his audience away from working in the genre. Belic traveled to Afghanistan as the U.S. was going to war with the country in 2001 to track three self-starting humanitarians bringing food, medicine, and clothing to the war-torn, and reminded the teens that “It’s only cool if you can come home and tell your story.” Which they intuitively understood. The first question from the audience reminded us all of their age, while speaking directly to the point: “Did you ever have nightmares?”

Besides the YME training — which is a paid, six-week program — Just Think offers media-literacy curricula to schools, media workshops via a yellow school bus fully equipped for production, and family media forums (among other programs). As the annual YME training got underway, Just Think Program Director Erica Deiparine-Sugars answered a few of SF360’s questions.

SF360: What is “media literacy” and why is it important?

Erica Deiparine-Sugars: Media literacy is the ability of to analyze, evaluate, understand and produce media messages in its varied forms. As individuals living in a society heavily impacted by the media, it is necessary for us to develop the critical thinking skills in order to lead healthy, responsible, and independent lives.

Just Think’s Director of Art and Technology (left) Arthur Grau IV and Program Director Erica Deiparine-Sugars (2nd from left) watch as 2005-06 Youth Media Educators Mark Bradford and Zari Smith interview candidates for the ’06 summer training program. (Photo by Susan Gerhard)

SF360: How long has the Youth Media Educators program been operating, and how many YME’s have you graduated?

Deiparine-Sugars: The YME program formally started last summer (summer 2005) and 12 students went through the program. But Just Think has been utilizing the peer education model in many of its past local, national, and international programs. For example, 1997, Just Think youth from East Palo Alto participated in an exchange experience with youth from Zimbabwe where they trained students and teachers in new media production.

SF360: How steep has the learning curve been for some of the teens in the program?

Deiparine-Sugars: Many of the students who participate in the YME program have very little formal experience with media production and almost no experience with media education. With that and the fact that we are preparing them to become peer educators in their schools and communities, there is a lot to cover.

SF360: What’s your favorite of the curricula Just Think offers to schools, and why?

Deiparine-Sugars: I have been managing our latest project — the Media Education, Arts and Literacy program. We just ended this three-year project funded by the Department of Education with two SF middle schools. The goal of the project is to create and implement an innovative model curriculum that demonstrates the impact of integrating media arts education into core middle school curricula. We are waiting for the final data from the research conducted of the program and indicators point to positive gains in academic scores. Preliminary data has already shown significant improvements in creative and critical thinking skills.

SF360: What aspect of the YME training has been most surprising to you?

Deiparine-Sugars: You always expect that the students are more interested in learning the technology and production skills. But it is surprising to see how much they ‘get’ the media literacy skills and how much they enjoy sharing what they learn with their peers.

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