Producer Dianna Douglas will help KERA bring the voices of North Texas students to the radio and to the web through our new project, the KERA Yearbook. We’re exploring the forces in teenagers’ lives that affect how they perform in high school, and whether they finish.

The KERA radio story

This project starts in Richard Perez’s Audio Video Production class. He’s teaching his students the basics for a career in media.  

“We’re trying to give them as many skills as they can get, early on, so they can enter the job market or have options when you graduate.”

Perez teaches at Polytechnic High School in Fort Worth, and his students run a radio station, make short movies, and deliver the morning news. They also create public service announcements on hot topics, like texting while driving, staying in school, online bullying.

In the 8 years that he’s taught, Perez has learned that his students’ creations are sometimes a window into their souls.

“Some of the girls that were doing PSAs about getting pressured by their boyfriends ended up getting pregnant,” he said. “I’m looking more closely at their scripts now to see what they’re writing about, to see if there’s something they’re really going through.“

The hours of content they produce in these classes are also a new way to communicate for his teenage students, a group that is notoriously reticent to talk.

Jared Hopkins, a senior at Dubiski Career High School in Grand Prairie, says he’s learned important skills for his future career in his AV classes.

“I like AV because as a child I wanted to be an actor,” he said. While he’s expanded his career plans to include media production more broadly, he says it’s been a “cool” training program. “How many other high school students can say I actually made a movie?”

Dubiski feels like a different world from Polytechnic. Every student has a laptop, and the students keep to a professional dress code. But they cover the same curriculum in the AV classes as Polytechnic.

His teacher, Dee McCown, says each of the projects in her class teaches the students a new way of speaking.

“Most people have something to say, they have something that they want to get out there, and teenagers are no different,” she said.

“Putting out a video or a .gif reaches not only their peers, but maybe explains something to an audience that they don’t think understands them.”

Last year, when she was teaching at Red Oak High School, a group of her students creating an animated story about a boy who grows up without his father. When they entered it into a state film festival, she learned from one mother why her son had put so much emotion into it.

“She said when I first hear this, it gave me goose bumps because this story is very much like his story,” McCown said. ”This gave them something to talk about that maybe they didn’t want to talk about.”

This fall we’ll be hearing more from Dee McCown’s and Richard Perez’s students, and other teenagers throughout North Texas with the KERA yearbook. While they learn the skills for media careers, we’ll be listening in to see what they choose to tell us about their lives.

More at kerayearbook.tumblr.com