YOUMedia Miami: a creative space for teens to experiment with digital media

Knight Foundation’s Library Initiative supports libraries in 27 cities to become digital community centers that help foster informed and engaged communities. The following explores the foundation supported project, YOUMedia Miami. It is written by Annie Schutte, a librarian, teacher and consultant for Knight. Below, the video “Soul Ground” was filmed, edited and sound directed by Khaleel Bailey, age 18.

It’s a rainy afternoon in May, and yet the North Dade Regional Library’s YOUMedia lab is packed with teens who have made their way to the space from five area high schools. YOUMedia Miami offers library-card-carrying students ages 14-19 a creative space to learn about digital media and collaborate with other teens on projects ranging from animation to video production to online journalism. VIEW STUDENT PROJECTS CREATED AT YOUMEDIA MIAMI:

The lab first opened its doors in February 2012 with the goal of signing up 200 students in its first year. It blew past that goal by November 2012 and today has served about 500 teens, with more coming into the lab every day.

YOUMedia’s success in Miami came about almost as quickly as its inception. Knight Foundation Vice President for the Arts Dennis Scholl and Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Jorge Martinez visited YOUMedia Chicago in 2011 and approached Miami-Dade Public Library Director Raymond Santiago about bringing the program to Miami. Santiago had also recently visited YOUMedia Chicago and loved the idea.

Santiago brought the idea back to his team at the Miami-Dade Public Library, and they began identifying a potential space, sketching out the program requirements and looking for funding. Knight stepped in with an $805,755 grant to renovate the space, purchase equipment and support the program for its first two years.

YOUMedia Miami comes at a time when budget cuts are forcing many public libraries to eliminate or reduce teen programs. Martinez asserts that “digital skills are a prerequisite for 21st century citizenship and libraries are ideal places for young people to acquire these skills.”

YOUMedia Miami Project Coordinator Marlon Moore says that the program has completely changed the way that the library interacts with teens. When he was growing up in the area, “kids would hang out outside the library, but they would never come inside” Today, he says, “they are coming in every day … they’ll come straight from school in the pouring rain.”

The North Dade Regional Library serves the Miami Gardens community where 43 percent of children have no access to Internet at home, and most have had little to no exposure to the professional Macintosh hardware and software used in the lab. But that quickly changes as students begin to work through the YOUMedia curriculum with guidance from the YOUMedia staff and mentors.

Four certifications make up the core of the YOUMedia curriculum: an introduction to the space, basic digital photography, videography and music production. More than half of the teens have taken at least one of the units in each branch of this core curriculum. These certifications provide teens with a pass to begin taking structured workshops and the freedom to check items out from the space.

The workshops push students to start bringing all the foundational skills together to start to create their own creative work. The workshops cover topics such as photo editing, creating a literary magazine, spoken-word poetry, digital storytelling, music production, video production, animation and podcasting.

The staff and mentors help students make connections to real-world work and have helped a number of program graduates secure scholarships to pursue digital media at the college level. Many students who come to the YOUMedia lab for the first time are not on track to go to college, but Moore says that he has definitely seen “an increase in awareness about being prepared for college and even interest in college” among YOUMedia teens.

Moore’s motto for YOUMedia teens is “if you want to do something, you have to do it with excellence.” And that applies to everything the teens do in the YOUMedia space. When the teens suggested that they wanted to be able to start and run their own clubs, for example, Moore gave them the go-ahead under the condition that they would have to put together a proposal for each club and work on it with the same rigor you would a business proposal. The lab now hosts a variety of clubs, including a record-label club, glee club, humanitarian club, fashion club, book club, and journalism club.

YOUMedia staff work with the clubs to get the teens out of the lab and engaged in the community. The record-label club, for example, got the opportunity to go into a real recording studio to lay down a track. The students worked in the weeks before the trip to write a song together, including the music and lyrics, then rehearse and decide how they would perform it. When they got into the studio, they were ready to go, and came out of it with an amazing experience and a professional final product.

The YOUMedia Lab space usually sees 25 to 30 teens at a time during the school year, but during the summer that number rises to 45 to 50. Staff say that there would be more all year if the space was larger. Miami-Dade Public Library Assistant Director Gia Arbogast says that the library has already started planning for how it can expand the existing space to meet demand. Moore says that he is also hoping that they will be able to bring the YOUMedia model to other libraries in the Miami-Dade system. The No. 1 question he gets asked, he says, is “why isn’t this in another library?”

YOUMedia Miami is also looking forward to seeing a new crop of teens “graduate” from the program this month as they leave high school, but hopefully stay on as mentors. Arbogast describes the success that YOUMedia has seen so far as “shocking,” saying that “these are teenagers who never came into the library, but [the program] went viral.” While Moore says he hasn’t been as surprised, he is excited to see how the teens will top what they’ve accomplished so far.

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