High School Students Learn the Value of Their Voices in KALW Audio Storytelling Class
By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Public Radio
Earlier this month, Audio Academy alum Colin Peden (’15) and KALW‘s justice reporter Holly J. McDede spent many days teaching audio storytelling and production to 60 students from Philip and Sala Burton High School in San Francisco. The classes are part of the station’s outreach and training – work that now reaches nearly 150 people of all ages every year!
I asked Holly for some thoughts and Colin for some images from the experience. Check out what they had to share:
The other day, I was talking to Marisol Medina-Cadena, one of KALW’s Audio Academy fellows, about teenagers who don’t realize how important their stories are. I had just begun to co-teach audio engineering and storytelling skills to students at Burton High School. So we talked about young people afraid of their own voices, and awkward adults fumbling around, trying to make some kind of connection, like aliens attempting to reach earth.
Marisol tutors students at an after school program at Galileo High School in San Francisco, and told me about a boy who finally opened up to her about why he was missing class. Turned out, the student DJed with his dad, and often wouldn’t get home until early in the morning. Not only did it make sense why the boy was missing class, but it also became clear he was, to all extents and purposes and definitions, totally cooler than school.
When I began teaching the classes at Burton, a part of me hoped for those kinds of startling revelations. Alongside Colin, our task was to teach students to interview their classmates about songs that mean something to them. They’d take those interviews, and turn them into roughly two minute pieces embedded with music.
I am no psychologist. I do not know if holding a microphone in front of high school students’ mouths causes teenagers to vomit out meaningful words about the world. But when the students interviewed their classmates about their songs, that’s what happened. One student chose You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat it Too
by Brenda Taylor. “I live in the Bayview,” she said. “I live in poverty, and me and my sisters would ask our dad for things all the time, constantly. So he’d sing, ‘You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat it Too.’
Another student chose Sideshow
by Traxamillion. It’s a song about sideshows, a kind of illegal automobile exhibition. Police have been cracking down on them in Oakland, but you don’t often get to hear from the people who love them, especially not seventeen year old boys. “It’s a way we get to know each other more,” he said into the microphone. “We do sideshows almost every weekend. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. All of us go crazy when the cars start swinging, nobody stops us from doing our thing. Everybody I know swings.”
The students were shy, and classmates interviewing them had to keep asking questions to get them to keep talking, enough to fill two minutes.
Another student chose Keep Ya Head Up
by Tupac. “Where I live, there’s a lot of single mothers,” she said. She didn’t elaborate, and the person interviewing her just let the statement sit there, and let her say what she wanted to say next. “A lot of songs don’t represent women well,” she said. “My favorite lyric is, ‘And since a man can’t make one / He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one.'” She went on to describe how the song made her feel important as a woman.
One student chose I-800
by Logic, a song about why it’s important for people to reach out for help when they’re feeling suicidal. “It basically helps people dealing with bad stuff or in a bad mood,” he said. The student interviewing him asked if he had ever felt suicidal. That’s a question I think most reporters would be afraid to ask. He paused, then said, “Well, it’s personal, but I’ll just tell you what’s up.” In simple language, without much detail, he described times in his life where he felt suicidal and said this song brought his hopes up.
After the first day of recording, we were back in class again the next day. A lot of the students came up to us, saying they wanted to try speaking about their songs again on tape and redo the interviews.
The student who talked about suicide ended up re-recorded himself, as though he wasn’t satisfied with what he said the first time. Or maybe he was embarrassed to have talked so openly about depression. Or maybe he thought what he said wasn’t important enough to be on the radio. I hope he knows otherwise. I hope they all do.