Station Spotlight | Maine Public: Power to the Students

Mid-Maine Technical Center, Waterville, ME

Dave Boardman joined SRL in early 2017. In addition to teaching at Mid-Maine Technical Center, Dave serves as Maine Public’s education program coordinator. The duel roles provide a unique opportunity for SRL pieces to be featured on Raise Your Voice, an online platform on Maine Public that acts as a forum for student voice in the community. Working in tandem with SRL, Dave and the station has helped students develop valuable skills and a sense of agency, empowering them to create pieces worthy of national attention.

When did Mid-Maine Technical Center and Maine Public first become a part of SRL?

Mid-Maine Technical Center and Maine Public became part of SRL in the fall of 2017. In addition to teaching MMTC’s Mass Media Communications’ program, I also work as Maine Public’s education program coordinator. I came across the SRL website early in 2017 and knew it would be a perfect opportunity for my students, and an ideal way to connect our station’s education mission with students interested in video journalism. Working in these dual roles, it’s an ideal way to bring together the potential of both public media and high schools students; we share our experience, and help young people share their perspectives.

How has the Student Reporting Labs program and youth voices benefited the station?

That’s something that’s always evolving. But one of the key benefits is the opportunity to feature student work and perspectives on our website. In 2017 we developed Raise Your Voice, our online platform for student ideas and opinions, and since we launched, we’ve featured two projects produced as part of SRL’s Making It Work series, and we’re about to feature several stories produced as part of the Power In Numbers project. Raise Your Voice has an audience of close to 30,000 on its own, and we also take advantage of Maine Public’s large social media presence to get even more views on these projects. Raise Your Voice is the only statewide launchpad for student work like this, so this partnership, being able to feature SRL stories on Maine Public’s site, works well for both. And as a teacher and Maine Public staff member, I also encourage my students to build connections with our station’s programming staff directly to advocate for getting their work on air. That’s a great experience for students; they’re learning the kind of professional communication and relationship skills that are key in any profession.

Why is it important to help build the next generation of public media producers and participants?

Public media isn’t exactly topping the charts with my high school students. More of them identify public television as something their baby brothers and grandmothers watch. But when high school students are creating media – telling stories and capturing perspectives – and when public media can find a way to feature that work, then we’re building an audience not just of watchers, but of creators and storytellers. And that was the promise of digital technology when it got big in schools back in the ’90s, that students wouldn’t be passive consumers, but they’d be creators. I can’t think of a better role for public media than to provide avenues for young people to take part in the process of journalism. If they can understand how good journalism happens, they’ll be more critical consumers and active participants in the future.

What were your goals going into an SRL classroom this year?

As both the SRL educator and public media representative, my goals ran a parallel track: I wanted my students to successfully produce the kind of stories that could be shared through the SRL network, and I hoped to connect with other Maine educators who saw the potential for engaging their students in the kind of journalism and storytelling that could take place for a broader audience than their own schools and communities. Our SRL students produced some great work, but maybe more importantly, we held them to rigorous standards: they dug out the kind of stories that could hold up to a bigger – maybe national audience – and they did that hard work of lighting and shooting, transcribing, scripting, and revising and revising. Before joining SRL, they took a lot of shortcuts, and their work didn’t hold up the way it does today. That’s been a real turning point for MMTC’s program.

And as a both a teacher and education coordinator with Maine Public, I helped start the Maine Student Film & Video Conference, bringing close to 200 students and 50 educators together for a day of working with pros in broadcasting, cinematography, audio, and more. And having SRL staff members Elis Estrada and Kristy Choi lead workshops as part of this was one more building block in helping connect public media, educators, and students. (https://www.mainestudentfilm.org/conference/) That day is becoming the genesis of an educators’ professional network here in Maine that will keep the connections building. So, our goals started with the simple, “We can do this,” approach, and that has led to so much more as the success grew.

What did you learn and what were some anecdotes and takeaways from students?

Students knew when they had a good story, and when they saw the possibilities that there could be a home for their work with a very real, interested, and potentially large audience through our Raise Your Voice site or other public media possibilities, that sense of agency – the sense of empowerment to craft and tell this story – just grew. That didn’t mean they didn’t get a little weary after transcribing several long interviews or revising their video half a dozen times, but it did give them a reason to do it. They saw the connection between their SRL story, and the very real world of journalism and public media, to the point that I had to tell one team they couldn’t say they were “from NewsHour.” It was a totally innocent thing, but it was telling: they weren’t calling a potential interview subject for a school project. They were on a story, and they knew someone – probably a lot of people – were going to watch it. That’s power, and when high school students have that, it’s a good thing.

The other thing I learned, again both as an educator and public media coordinator, is that when we – whether it’s industry or educators – set real professional standards, students will do all they can to rise to those goals. Mid-Maine Technical Center’s video journalism program is so much stronger than ever before as a result of our involvement in Student Reporting Labs. It’s not only evident in the work that students produce, but in the sense of accomplishment they have being part of this network.