Helping Kids Tell Their Own Stories

It seems like everyone carries a camera around in their pocket these days, but creating and editing professional video is more than a matter of having a smartphone on hand. And for those less fortunate, even owning a phone can be too much of a barrier to exploring the dynamism of film.

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Young people can sign up for the Media Arts Center San Diego’s Teen Producers Project by visiting the Media Arts Center San Diego’s website.

To bridge the gap, the Media Arts Center San Diego’s Teen Producers Project is giving young people an opportunity to become storytellers via video.

“The first goal is to teach kids technology skills and give them exposure to working with digital video and editing equipment they may not have access to,” says Lisa Salus, coordinator of the Teen Producers Project. “The second goal is intertwined with social justice: We want to empower young people to tell stories of their communities and the issues going on around them.”

For example, local students created this public service announcement about homelessness and the 1.7 million young people who call the streets home each year:

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Challenging Stereotypes of All Kinds

For almost 15 years, the Media Arts Center San Diego has worked with thousands of young people from Orange County to Tijuana, Salus says. “Locally, we have projects at the downtown library, in schools across the county, and at local museums and community centers,” she says.

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Learn more about the Teen Producers Project.

The Media Arts Center San Diego encourages participants in the Teen Producers Project — all aged 12-18 — to use multi-media technology to challenge stereotypes. “They create mini-journalism stories and short documentaries that highlight things going on in their communities or that they experience,” Salus says.

Ethan van Thillo, founder and executive director of the Media Arts Center San Diego, puts it this way: “They grow up seeing negative portrayals from mainstream news. Here, they’re producing content for the first time that’s more realistic and accurate about the people around them. There’s a sense of pride in being able to express themselves and provide a sense that this is who we are as a community.”

In this video, high school student Alyssa Lupercio performs a monologue titled “Don’t Tell Me I’m Beautiful” about the power of social media to set expectations about appearance:

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Even a Neighborhood Can Get the Spotlight

The Media Arts Center San Diego is especially in tune to the struggles of urban neighborhoods. It sits on a once-raggedy stretch of El Cajon Boulevard that’s now seeing a renaissance thanks to the presence of the Media Arts Center’s Digital Gym and growth in local restaurants and businesses. “We’ve seen a ripple effect in the surrounding area,” Salus says, “and we’re thrilled to help the neighborhood turn away from decline.”

Young filmmakers from the Teen Producers Project created this video about the transformation of El Cajon Boulevard in North Park:

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You may also donate to the Media Arts Center’s 2015 fundraising campaign. A $35 donation will allow the center to waive the normal fee for four hours of class.

A Place for Those Who Don’t Fit In

“We’ve created a strong community of students here,” Salus says. “We’ve created a community of students who don’t fit the mold anywhere else. They’re kind of geeky and not jocks, and may not have a network of social connections to call home.”

The Teen Producers Project is especially helpful to kids who are learning to speak English. “They don’t have a lot of opportunity to be creative,” van Thillo says. “They produce videos in whatever language feels natural, which allows them to express themselves in new ways.”

In addition to learning about video technology, the students also gain an education about the issues that affect their communities, like housing, poverty and prejudice. “They become experts,” van Thillo says, “and can use that knowledge to improve the world.”

In this video, students highlight a program that offers an alternative to the court process for young adults and teens who commit minor crimes:

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SDG&E has financially supported Media Arts Center San Diego’s Teen Producers Project for the past four years. It allows MACSD to work with underserved youth throughout San Diego County, teaching them technology, educational, work-readiness, and video production skills.

Additionally, Media Arts Center San Diego is one of SDG&E’s many community-based “Energy Solutions Partners”. Throughout the year, MACSD promotes energy efficiency programs/opportunities at their annual San Diego Latino Film Festival and via their Digital Gym Community Technology Center and Cinema.

Finally, SDG&E’s Community Relations Department has hired MACSD’s Video Production Services Department for the past two years, with the goal of spotlighting the many grantees and community organization’s that SDG&E supports. MACSD Video Production Services Department is a work-readiness program that produces professional video work, connecting emerging filmmakers with real-world clients and experienced film producers. Here’s an example of their work that was recently supported by SDG&E.

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