New York City January 2002

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Online Publication Provides Students with Unique Learning Opportunities
By Marie Holmes
When 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, 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.”

HarlemLive 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 February.”
“I’ve 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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