Online Publication Provides Students with Unique Learning Opportunities
By Marie Holmes
When asked what
he learns at HarlemLive that he didnt 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, HarlemLives
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
Teachers 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 Id been working with before wed 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
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 projects 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.
Ive 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 were 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 dont have any direct funding right now.
HarlemLive relies on the support of foundations, corporate gifts, and
donations from the private sector. Weve always been running
on donated space, Calton adds, noting that the program is ready
to recruit more staff but wont 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.#
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212)
481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.