DA op-ed: Lights, camera, learning
My students, mainly from the Englewood and Bronzeville neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side, were articulate, intelligent young scholars who, because of their ZIP code, were often ignored by the leadership of Chicago Public Schools. They suggested my Twitter handle, @Boss_Librarian, because I never settled for less from them and didn’t follow the societal norms of what a school librarian should be.
Support from the top
Under the leadership and support of Principals Terrance Little and Dr. Devon Horton (now chief of schools for Jefferson County in Louisville, Kentucky), I began using social media in my library media center program to market a different image of the students I served—one that was not portrayed in the local media.
During that first semester, I took hundreds of photos describing a typical day in the life of a Phillips student. I posted the pictures to my account, along with descriptions, every school day and forwarded them to various district directors and managers. Oftentimes, I received no response, but I continued to hope that someone would pay attention.
Student news and views
That same year, Horton learned that I had a background in television production, and he pitched an idea. He wanted me to modernize our student news delivery system, emphasizing college preparation through scholarship and application.
Making my job easier, Phillips had recently received a federal School Improvement Grant as well as VITAL and Re-Vital grants from the Department of Libraries of Chicago Public Schools that provided 25 iPads, Chromebooks, a MacBook Pro and a MacBook Air for the library media center.
Reginald Brown, an English teacher with a similar mass communications background, and I created “Behind the Paws,” a student-run news program.
We taught the crew members how to write copy for broadcast, shoot news stories around the school, and edit the video into a four- to six-minute show. Each program was uploaded to a shared Google Drive account and played by teachers during class.
Since the administrators enjoyed “Behind the Paws” so much, they created an elective class for students to work on the show each day during a dedicated class period. With that extra time, we began to have students post daily news stories on the show’s own Twitter account.
This was a bold move because at the time, Chicago Public Schools did not have a formal social media policy in place. We used our best judgment and closely monitored student postings.
Our most creative show featured reports submitted by “Behind the Paws” crew members who visited Spain as a part of honors Spanish class. The pictures, videos and interviews were priceless.
Soon after, I created a professional Instagram account for my library media center program and a school Pinterest account for students to post even more content from the class.
At long last: Recognition
Eventually, leaders of Chicago Public Schools began to take notice. The “Behind the Paws” crew, Brown and I were named “Social Media Trailblazers,” and we were featured on the district’s YouTube channel.
More attention soon followed, and the students were invited to present at two district technology conferences, Tech Talk and iPad Academy.
The highest praise came when Phillips Academy High School received the coveted 2013 Spotlight on Technology Award from Chicago Public Schools and appeared on the October 2014 cover of School Library Journal.
None of this would have been possible without the support of administrators, teachers, students and parents.
I’m proud of the work we accomplished at Phillips. We saw the beauty of our students and wanted to share their talents with a wide audience.
Moreover, I’m proud of the students, many of whom I’m still in touch with via social media. The Phillips students were great kids—all brought together by social media.
K.C. Boyd is the library media specialist at Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, D.C.
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