Publication Provides Students with Unique Learning Opportunities
asked what he learns at HarlemLive that he didn’t learn
in school, 19 year-old Senior Editor Melvin Johnson shakes his
head, laughing. “I could go down a list,” he says. “You learn
html, you learn programming, networking skills, public speaking
skills . . .”
It was, in fact, an interest in learning html that brought Johnson,
who had dropped out of high school, to HarlemLive two years
ago. An article in Source magazine pricked his interest
in the online publication run by New York City teens. After HarlemLive
sent him out on a few stories, it became clear that Johnson had
a talent for public speaking. “He got a standing ovation at Columbia
University last October” when he spoke at a panel discussion,
recalls Richard Calton, HarlemLive’s director. “He has
totally turned his life around.” Since coming on board as an intern,
Johnson has earned his GED, taken college courses, taught computer
classes, and worked for an internet start-up company.
Melvin Johnson is one of over 40 young people who now devote countless
hours every week to keep their publication up and running at www.harlemlive.org,
the brainchild of former teacher Richard Calton.
After six years of teaching in the public schools, Calton found
that he was “sort of frustrated with the classroom.” Studying
at Teacher’s College during a leave of absence, Calton came up
with an idea that could help his students expand their learning
experiences far beyond the limitations of the traditional classroom.
Seeing how easy it was to publish on the web, and realizing that
the Internet boom was only just beginning, Calton says, “I called
up some of the teens that I’d been working with before – we’d
had a newspaper – and I said, ‘Hey, we could do the same thing
that we were doing before except put it on the web for the whole
world to see.’”
With several former students, a digital camera and a laptop computer,
Calton launched HarlemLive in 1996. The results have since
been given international attention and numerous awards. All of
the writing, editing, and producing is done by the students themselves,
with Calton, still very much the teacher, always there to guide
them. From the beginning, the project’s goals were not only to
train future journalists, photographers, and webmasters, but also
to provide, through the Internet, “a vehicle to expose them to
different people and places and events.”
staffers describe their educational experiences at HarlemLive
as part technology, part cultural and part career counseling.
Trenise Ladson, a 19 year-old student of computer engineering
at City College, says that HarlemLive offers her a first-hand
experience in the field shat she hopes to pursue as a career.
Danya Steele, 17, current editor-in-chief, adds that HarlemLive
provides a solution to the “never-ending cycle” of not being able
to find a job without having experience, yet not being able to
acquire experience without having a job. “It gives you leverage
in a world that can seem unbalanced,” she says, referring as much
to problems of race and class as to the whims of the job market.
Melvin Johnson says that, for inner city students, working at
HarlemLive is “a chance for equal opportunity,” helping
individual students gain work experience and skills as well as
contributing to the close of the Digital Divide that separates
the tech-savvy from the computer-illiterate.
Another advantage of working for the publication cited by the
students was the opportunity to meet and work with a variety of
professional journalists, graphic designers, and others, allowing
the staff to begin building a network of professional contacts
at an early age. “Being around successful people like that makes
it seem more tangible that you can be like them,” explains Danya
Steele. The students also agree that they have learned more at
HarlemLive about the history of Harlem, and African-American
history in general, than in their high-schools, where such topics
were reduced to studying the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. “every
been to parts of Harlem I never knew existed,” says Justin Young,
19, who has been with HarlemLive for two years. “Harlem
has a rich culture and a rich history.” The publication also combats
stereotypes about young people from Harlem and other predominately
Black and Latino neighborhoods. “It shows that we’re capable of
being productive,” Steele explains.
Despite the long hours – up to six or seven daily – that these
staff members devote to HarlemLive, in addition to their
school commitments, their enthusiasm comes across just as clearly
as the benefits that the internships provide. Trenise Ladson describes
the tiny offices as her “home away from home.” She remembers staying
at the offices into the early hours of the morning with other
interns to finish a project. “We were all so excited about it,”
she recalls, as she and Justin laugh at the memory. “I went home
with a smiling face and showed my mama.”
A quality publication, of course, requires not only the students’
tireless efforts but also their access to equipment and space.
The organization, which is currently being funded by a grant from
the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College, still
struggles to find adequate funding. The Teachers College grant
runs out in six months, and, says Calton, “we really don’t have
any direct funding right now.” HarlemLive relies on the
support of foundations, corporate gifts, and donations from the
private sector. “We’ve always been running on donated space,”
Calton adds, noting that the program is ready to recruit more
staff but won’t be able to due to the space limitations of its
cramped offices at the Playing2Win Community Technology Center
on 111th street.
Even in the face of these difficulties, Calton and the students
continue to look forward, and hope to soon expand into video reporting.
With enough support, the young professionals at HarlemLive
will be using the Internet to share their insight and knowledge
with the world for many years to come.#
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