This column features stories from students in The Hive Learning Network programs. Johnny Thrower is a member of Free Spirit Media, an Emmy Award-winning program that empowers teenagers to create impactful media.
Growing up, I watched a lot of movies, TV shows and cartoons, but I didn't know anything about how to make them. I didn't know what a wide shot or extreme close-up was. I had no experience using video cameras.
In the fall of 2009, I started hearing whispers around my school that an organization called Free Spirit Media was going to be offering a program here. When their staff visited one of my classes to pitch their vision for young people to learn how to produce their own media, I was sure it was something I wanted to do.
It was a fast-paced, hands-on environment. I jumped right into learning how to use a camera, edit and use sound, and also how produce documentaries, public service announcements and news packages. All the things I had been watching over the years, I was now able to do myself. I learned something new every day.
Over the course of three years, I experienced so much, including a trip to Hamburg, Germany where I worked with German teens to produce a documentary on classism. Through my experiences, I have grown as a person and a media maker.
This past fall, Dimitri Moore, Free Spirit Media's Special Projects Producer, asked me to work on a project in partnership with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Along with a few other students, I was challenged to produce public service announcements for the American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen initiative in collaboration with Chicago's largest PBS station, WTTW11. I didn't know exactly what to expect. The group consisted of three other high school students and one FSM alum who is now in college. The goal of the PSAs was for us to connect in a peer-to-peer way to inspire teenagers to graduate from high school.
I was nervous because we needed to think about how we could create messages that would actually work to help kids to stay in school. We started by doing research and surveying people we knew. I brought ideas to each meeting and gave feedback on other peoples' ideas. Together, we brainstormed a lot of concepts and put them up on a big board. Then we narrowed our ideas down to two: "Find Your Inspiration" and "Knowledge i$ Money." We thought these messages could work. "Find Your Inspiration" basically says that you can find things at school -- like arts, sports, and other activities -- that make learning more interesting. With "Knowledge i$ Money," we were just being honest about the fact that kids are interested in money.
We shared our ideas with our partners at WTTW11, and they gave some helpful feedback. Then we finalized our scripts and production plans, and were off to production. I rotated in and out of every role, including camera operator, director, audio recorder and even on-camera talent (as an extra).
When the opportunity came to present the finished pieces at Free Spirit Media's "Graduating to the Big Screen" showcase with over two hundred of my peers, we were not just sharing our amazing PSAs; we were also demonstrating what months of discussions, debates, decisions, and creative work can make possible. As the lights came up, the audience applauded and congratulated our team on our wonderful pieces.
It felt really good to point out shots that I helped create to my friends. My father was there and I was so happy to share with him. Plus, WTTW11 was so impressed that they have been running our PSAs on their station during prime time.
This June, I will graduate from Power House High School, and I am planning to start college in the fall. As I think about the American Graduate PSAs that we produced, I am so proud and feel that they can make a difference and help kids stay in school. Let's make it happen!
Here are the videos our crew made: