Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Youth Voice and Self- Expression in Afterschool: Videography

By Sam Piha
Source: www.lbymcayi.org
Providing opportunities for youth to reflect on and express their thoughts and feelings are a critical strategy for any afterschool program. This is especially important as youth return to afterschool programs after a year of isolation.

These opportunities are essential to promoting youth voice, healthy youth development, social emotional skills and resiliency, especially those who have experienced trauma. Strategies and activities include sharing circles, poetry and spoken word, journaling, videography, art and the theater arts.

We interviewed Les Peters (Executive Director, Community Development, YMCA of Greater Long Beach) on the importance of using videography to promote youth voice and self- expression. Below are some of his responses.

Q: Why is it important to provide youth with opportunities to reflect on and/or express themselves and their feelings?
A: It’s extremely important to create a nurturing and safe learning environment for youth to express themselves creatively.  In the Long Beach Youth Institute, we have a pedagogy of “Caring, Kindness and Compassion equals Creativity.” Youth Development is our mantra – foundation for everything we do, along with character development and we provide social and emotional support systems that allow youth to develop mechanism to help them deal with real-life struggles and over traumas. Through the process of reflection, we as human beings to start to understand our surrounding and how we are a part it and it is a part of us. Technology becomes an engagement tool to help youth reflect and express themselves through digital media arts. Many youth are not actively engaged in a positive and safe learning environment that allows them to express themselves without recourse.

Source: www.lbymcayi.org
Q: Is the making of videos a good way to provide these opportunities? Why?
A: It provides youth the opportunity to develop their voice and use technology to express themselves creatively. We have stages of helping youth express themselves: 1) wilderness retreat = around the campfire, 2) family presentations = telling their story of who they are, and 3) creating short films = on their community or teen issues. As the process progresses it allows the youth the develop confidence and find their voice. Digital Storytelling is an opportunity to engage youth to grow from voiceless to advocates in their communities. Youth and staff sharing this process together, strengthens their bond and it allows both to grow from this shared experience. There are academic benefits too, within Language Arts, History, Arts and Mathematics and workforce skills.

Q: Do afterschool programs need special equipment to provide these opportunities?
A: To begin a digital storytelling program, it can be quite simple – as a smart phone and video editing app. In the Long Beach Youth Institute, we have used iPhones and the iMovie app to create PSA for the city of Long Beach. This generation of youth are digital fish – they swim in technology. Give them a theme or topic they are passionate about and let them create and explore. In many communities, technology is accessible, but we still need to work on access for all. Digital storytelling equipment can vary based on your budget and needs. Basic equipment to start: digital video camera, memory cards, mic, headphones, tripod, computer and editing software. “Think big, start small.”

Q: Do staff need special training?
A: We learned early on that anyone can learn technology. But it takes a special person – a youth developer. A youth magnet, an adult who the youth are drawn too. That can provide an impactful, meaningful and positive relationship to allow growth and the opportunity for youth to share and express. In the Long Beach Youth Institute, we thought 17 years ago let’s hire a filmmaker to teach our youth about digital storytelling. The technical skills they taught met our goals, but their youth development skills did not. It was challenging for the filmmaker to create a positive adult relationship with youth. They became very cautious with how fast the youth learned filmmaking, because they feared the youth would be better at it and they would have competition in the job market. To train staff on the process of digital storytelling, it starts with your youth developers and finding an organizing who understands the importance of youth development and how to use technology as an engagement tool to promote academic success, creative expression and workforce development to train your staff.  From our experience, you must build a relationship first before you can teach them anything. Youth listen to people, not rules.

Les Peters
YMCA of Greater Long Beach
Q: For programs that plan to continue working with their youth virtually, does any aspect of using video/ movies work?
A: I believe with thorough planning you can have a virtually digital storytelling program. Items to consider:

  • Do all youth have access to the internet and access to the required tools to fully participate in the program. If they don’t then you need to make sure you provide resources that would allow them access. The Digital Divide is still an issue in many low-income communities and in rural communities that do not have the infrastructure to support broadband. 
  • Curriculum designed for distance learning needs to be engaging for youth. Youth need structure and lessons that utilizes universal design to engage all learning styles. 
  • Instructors who have experience in distance learning, who are youth developers and have some technology skill sets to troubleshoot any issues that arise with internet connection, software issues, etc. During this crisis, we have had to adapt to a virtual platform for everything we do. Engaging youth in a virtual environment, will be challenging and it will take innovative thinking and an experienced youth developer to develop strategies that will provide positive engaging experiences for youth.

I don’t see us engaging in face to face programming any time soon. Given the spike in positive case throughout the US and many of our states are taking steps back in the reopening process. Virtual/distance learning is one of those options, we as youth developers can use to maintain our relationships and provide experiences that are engaging and meaningful.

Q: Can you recommend any good resources for afterschool programs that want to learn more?
A: There are many companies and organizations in the afterschool field who offer trainings and tools to start a digital media arts program. The old adage of “build it and they will come,” can be true for some afterschool programs. But if you want to provide a meaningful and impactful experience for youth, you need to look at those who 1) use best practice research, and 2) methodologies/pedagogies that foster positive youth development, and 3) practitioner-based trainings on experiences rather than theory-based. Another recommendation, evaluation on your program. You need to prove success of your program to gardener recognition and future funding. Find an evaluator who understands afterschool programs and youth development, it will cost to have reputable evaluator.

Source: www.youtube.com/user/YMCAYI

I recommend the Long Beach Youth Institute for additional resources and evaluation outcomes that have been published in 6 academic journals on youth development, technology, and workforce. You can view some of the youth produced videos at our Youtube channel by clicking here.


Les Peters currently works for the YMCA of Greater Long Beach, Youth Institute, a national recognized Teen Youth Development & Digital Media Arts program as the Executive Director of Youth Institute & Curriculum Development. He has over seventeen years of experience in youth development and over fourteen years in digital media arts technology. He develops and implements after-school and year-round programming for low-income urban youth of color, provides diversity training and develops creative academic & social skills through the use of multi-media technology. Mr. Peters also develops and implements hands-on, project- based content standard Digital Media Arts Curriculum for clients of Change Agent Productions. He provides technical and curriculum support to 18 Youth Institute Replication sites throughout the US, Canada and South Africa. Prior to Youth Institute, Mr. Peters served as an Education Specialist & Assistant Camp Director for the Yakama Nation Summer Camp Program in Toppenish, WA. He is a national trainer on middle & high school Youth Development, Project-Based Learning, 21st Century Learning Skills, Internet Privacy & Safety, Digital Media Arts and technology in after school and with the national YMCA of the USA for developing new Y-Arts programs. He is also a Guest Lecture for the American Indians Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach.

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