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Ace Spectrum is about you — the ACE Learning Centers.
It’s a quick sharing of ideas, inspiration, opinions and best practices among our continuing education organizations.

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Lessons from KALW Audio Academy: Audio Storytelling and Good Reporting Enhance Empathy and Highlight Stories That Need Telling

Posted by on Jan 22, 2020 in ACE Learning Center, ACE School Report, Continuing Education | 0 comments

By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW, News Supported Public Radio, and Joshua Sirotiak, Audio Academy ‘20

The first Audio Academy short features are rolling out, and I’m excited to share the first two with you. Both came from queries from KALW listeners as part of our Hey Area project, where our audience asks questions and our reporters find the answers.

The wait at DMV San Francisco. Photo: Gabriel White/Flickr/Creative Commons.

First up, Victor Tence made a story entitled “Can Homeless People Get The REAL ID?” You can listen to the answer by clicking here.

Then, Sona Avakian answered this one: “Is There Such A Thing as Earthquake Weather?” Satisfy your curiosity by clicking here.

Through the end of February, we plan to air these 3 minute and 30 second stories from Audio Academy fellows every Thursday. One of them will come from Joshua Sirotiak, who is our guest contributor, today. I have to admit that what he had to say really filled up my heart. Check it out:

Joshua Sirotiak

“Find a job that you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

“A person’s work need not define them.”

These two ideas, possibly in conflict with each-other, kick around in my head a lot.

As the child of a single mother who constantly struggled to keep our household afloat, from a young age I took great pride in my ability to take care of myself materially. Since my early teen years, I’ve been working full-time hours at jobs that, to me, didn’t feel meaningful beyond their ability to meet my material needs and wants. “Line cook” … “contractor’s apprentice” … “grocery store manager” … “bouncer” … “bar back” … These are all hats that I’ve worn, identities that to some extent I know. Through all of them I’ve held on to the identity of “musician” to keep myself sane, to feel like I was doing more than just getting by. (Since those same early teen years, I’ve been playing brass instruments, primarily tuba. The work that I’ve put into music has led me to life experiences that others might envy, but which probably looked glitzier from the outside than they actually felt to be lived through.) As long as I’ve had a show to prepare for it felt like I was putting in work on something that was larger than myself. But I didn’t have the tools (or confidence) to pursue work that felt more meaningful to me personally.

I joined KALW’s Audio Academy because I want to find work that does more than provide a paycheck. I want the work that I do day-to-day to serve society at large, and my community in particular. I also want that work to be intellectually stimulating and creatively satisfying. It’s a tall order, but somehow the people that the Audio Academy has surrounded me with keep making it seem not only possible but almost a foregone conclusion that what I’m looking for is out there. More than that, they keep convincing me that what I want to achieve is well within my reach.

It’s hard to overstate the amount of support that I feel from both my peers and mentors within the Audio Academy. Through their support (and my own work), I’ve managed to report and produce a short feature-length assignment, and I’m now moving on to pitching my own story ideas. Every other week I start my work day by scanning the news and walking members of our newsroom through five stories that I feel are worthy of attention and coverage on KALW’s air. (This is our daily digest call.) The weeks that the digest is not my responsibility, I work on a short script for KALW’s afternoon newscast and then voice those words on air. The confidence boost that I’ve gotten from hearing my own words, and even my own voice, on air talking about the news of the day is immense.

More than once in these last few months Audio Academy fellows and our mentors have spoken about the capacity of audio storytelling to enhance empathy and the capacity of good reporting to highlight stories that need telling. I believe that these twin capacities are things that our world needs now more than ever, and through my time at the Audio Academy I feel that I’m increasingly prepared to make enhancing those capacities my day-to-day work.

Earlier today I decided to finally cut back to part-time at the job that has been meeting my material needs, and I thank the Audio Academy for giving me the confidence to throw myself full time into pursuing my dreams.

The Art in STEAM, and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in Art

Posted by on Jan 14, 2020 in ACE Learning Center, ACE School Report, Continuing Education | 1 comment

By Martha Sessums, President, ACE

Science and Art can be a team. That was obvious in two art exhibits I saw recently. Leonardo da Vinci used science and the study of nature as inspiration for his art and painting style. Piet Mondrian, the abstract painter of the 20th century, was inspired by geometric form that would become his style – even in his early paintings.

The educational trend to add Art into the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) focus so it becomes STEAM makes sense to me. I’m not an educator and will never claim to be. I leave that to the amazing educators that run the ACE Learning Centers. But I have visited the schools and ACE Learning Centers, talked to students, teachers, program managers and principals, and have seen that to capture the imagination, interest and hope of a student to succeed beyond her or his dreams, it takes more than appealing to the techie side. There’s the human art side in everyone and that can be the entry and inspiration on a journey to success.

“Lady With an Ermine” by Leonardo.

The Leonardo exhibit at the Louvre in Paris focused on the artist’s scientific side. He was driven to explore a new way to find and paint “the truth of form” which he felt was constantly moving. To understand and convey movement, Leonardo questioned the physical world and looked beneath the surface for how movement happened. The result was extensive notes, studies and experiments on how humans are built and move, from bone and muscle structure to flight. He needed an understanding of movement via the laws that govern it which he regarded as fundamentally mathematical in nature.

The exhibit had a whole room of his notebooks, drawings and sketches of humans and the math and science of movement. His notes included studies using geometry, science, anatomy, botany, architecture, mathematics and a host more to create inventions of movement such as flying machines, solar power and even military tanks.

Science also gave the artist the freedom and insight to master shade, light, space and that movement he was looking for with his invention of the sfumato oil painting technique. Colors and tone are blended in such a subtle manner that transitions and edges are imperceptible. This became Leonardo’s masterpiece style of painting. His genius “truth of form.” Leonardo brought Science to Art.

Painting of a barn by Mondrian, one of his early figurative paintings.

Piet Mondrian’s journey from figurative painter to abstract artist filling canvases using shape, form, lines and color was on display at the Musée Marmottan Monet. He started out painting scenes of barns and windmills, but even then there was obvious emphasis on geometry in the form of these buildings. Mondrian brought Art to Science.

Much of his art inspiration was in his search “to capture the very essence of nature and not merely our perception of it.” Ultimately, he distanced himself from the figurative, naturalist styles and colors and focused on pure, bright and strongly contrasting colors (red, blue, yellow, black, white) displayed in balanced geometric shapes and planes.

Abstract painting by Mondrian.

The horizontal and vertical lines were drawn not using geometry’s ruler and protractor but by what he called “high intuition.” The result was a harmony and rhythm which he considered the “basic forms of beauty…(which) can become a work of art, as strong as it is true.”

My artist friend Jeannie Crockett said, “Mondrian’s work is so balanced. If you removed a line or a square, the balance would fall apart. It would not work.”

Mondrian’s style has even inspired fashion. Yves Saint Laurent designed shift dresses with blocks of primary colors bordered in black for his Fall 1965 collection. It was so popular it inspired coats, boots and more.

Art is actually a part of many student’s journeys. The walls of Oakland International High School and San Francisco International High School are covered with student art that tells stories of immigrant journeys. KALW’s Audio Academy is focused on the art of telling stories out loud. The Alpha Parent Center uses pictures as a tool to help English learners explain what they see.

There is Art in STEM. There is STEM in Art. Leonardo and Mondrian are examples of how their use of  Science and Art became a team that can inspire many a journey.

High Fives for Audio Academy Magic and Championship Raspberry-Rhubarb Pie

Posted by on Jan 13, 2020 in ACE Learning Center, ACE Partners, Continuing Education | 0 comments

By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Listener Supported Public Radio and Sona Avakian, Audio Academy Fellow

The 11 entries in the 2020 Pie-Off competition. Angela Johnston’s raspberry-rhubarb pie (on the left, with the lattice crust) took the cake. Photo credit: Ben Trefny.

We just held a New Year’s party to celebrate 2020. It was great fun — a potluck dinner followed by our annual Pie-Off competition. This year, Angela Johnston, Audio Academy class of 2014, defended her championship with a delicious raspberry-rhubarb pie. As is the case with most KALW events, Audio Academy alums were everywhere: David Boyer (’14), Rai Sue Sussman (’14), Shereen Adel (’16), Christine Nguyen (’18), Maggie McKay (’19), Sarah Lai Stirland (’20), and Sona Avakian (’20).

As we start the new year, Sona wrote up some thoughts about her part in the class of 2020:

Sona Avakian (left) and Sarah Lai Stirland at KALW’s New Year’s party. Photo credit: Ben Trefny.

I feel incredibly privileged to be in the Audio Academy class of 2020. When a friend of mine [Rai Sue] enrolled in the very first class seven years ago, I was so jealous whenever I heard her name on the air as part of Crosscurrents‘ closing credits. Finally circumstances in my life aligned, and I applied. Luckily, I got in.

I don’t think I have ever high-fived as many people in my whole life as I have in the past five months I’ve been in the Audio Academy. Pitched a successful story? High five! Got some good tape? High five! Nailed a tricky interview? High five! The staff at KALW are extremely supportive, and I’m grateful. My ideas have been encouraged and cultivated. Every success, no matter how minor, is celebrated.

At the station, some days are slow. Some are frustrating. Some days go by in a blur of high fives. As I write this, my first feature is about to air this week, I’m reporting for my next feature and getting together a pitch for a third. It’s busy!

And why did want to be in the Audio Academy so badly? Several reasons. Radio as a medium has stood the test of time. It’s portable. It’s in your car, your shower, and directly in your ear. It kept countries around the world informed during World War II. Radio has adapted itself in the Internet age in way that other mass media have not been successful. Oration is the oldest and purest form of communication and entertainment we have. Radio is just an extension of telling stories around a campfire, which has happened since the beginning of time. And on radio (or in a podcast) sounds that accompany your story can make or break it. You can have crickets, eerie music, the slam of a door. All are sounds that manipulate emotions. It’s invisible work. It’s magic. And who wouldn’t want to be in that world? In a blur of high fives?

Judges carefully consider the competition at the 2020 Pie-Off competition. Photo credit: Ben Trefny.