A group of East Garfield Park high school journalism students are bringing teen social and health issues to the TV screen.
The issues of eating disorders, bullying and self-worth will soon debut on the George Westinghouse College Preparatory television network, as students create documentaries that they hope will affect their student community.
“I really do challenge them to think about their peers and the youth that they talk to on a daily basis and really make a connection,” said Tracee Stanford, the journalism instructor and a former reporter. She hopes the experience will help students learn outside of the box on real social and health issues.
The first of two planned short film starts with a young teen that is being bullied by her peers, only for them to find out that she is suffering from an eating disorder. In the end, student Nikole Thomas, who will portray the teen, will give a speech on how common the disease is and how harsh words can affect others.
“It shows students that may be bullying others that their words hurt and people are listening wherever they go,” Thomas said. “Words stick with people. Watch the things that you say.
“There are people getting bullied for other things and our story can impact the students,” Thomas added, “because it can show them to stick up for themselves and to say, ‘Hey, I’m here. I’m listening. Do not talk about me.'”
The two classes of juniors at Westinghouse, 3223 W. Franklin, are part of the school’s Broadcast Technology and Media Academy, in which students learn to write, produce, film and edit stories. The three-scene documentaries will air as commercials during the students’ quarterly 15-minute newscast.
Student LaTaysia Wilson created the idea for the eating disorder story, although it was changed through peer review.
“We changed the story to something that was more broad for young girls,” she said. “We decided that in today’s society we don’t really pay attention to that and we want students to be able to get information about eating disorders, and find ways to not bully others because you never know what others are going through.”
The academy, Wilson adds, is helping her reach her goal to become a producer, director or screenwriter.
“I have always dreamed of being a writer. I always like to show people my ideas and what I experience in life and use that to create my stories,” Wilson said.
The second story will be about youth relationships and the idea of looking into oneself before judging others. But the academy does much more than documentaries.
Students have created public service announcements and news packages. In their junior year, students are given the opportunity to be producers, anchors and technical directors. This year is the first time they’re airing their work on the school network.
In January, Westinghouse was seen by all of Chicago as they hosted Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a Facebook Town Hall. The meeting took place in the academy’s studio. Students did all the technical work and one appeared as a co-anchor.
Student Damari Taylor, who was technical director for the town hall, believes the experience was good for the school.
“I think that it has made Westinghouse stand out and put our work out there to everyone,” Taylor said.
As for his role with the academy, Taylor maintains it’s helped him create the skills needed for his future. The young artist also incorporates his love for music with directing.
“It is nice to know that someone told you a message and it was beneficial to you in some way,” said Taylor. “That is basically my whole goal in the media that I do.”
As the students become seniors, Stanford said their next goal is to start preparing for the future. According to Stanford, this whole process has helped the students shape their lives.
“I enjoy both sides, for students that come in and love it, whether it is in front or behind the camera, they get a taste of all of the aspects of being a producer, director and anchor, so they can choose what they want,” she said. “And for the ones that say ‘This is not for me,’ I think we have still done them justice as well.”