Getting technical

Students learn how to set up a camera. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

The WHYY Media Labs have been a hit this year at Austin Meehan Middle School.

Based on positive feedback from a two-year pilot project, WHYY is directing a $1.7 million project to bring the labs to 27 Philadelphia schools over the next three years to help students and teachers use video storytelling as an effective learning tool. The William Penn Foundation has been the biggest funder.

At Austin Meehan, the school received an instructor, six computers and six video cameras, along with tripods, a microphone, cable and editing equipment.

The idea is that students develop video storytelling and other skills, while teachers integrate media production into existing curricula. One goal is to increase student literacy, specifically writing and listening skills and an understanding of technology, along with public speaking experience.

Meehan is the only middle school benefiting from the program. The others are high schools.

For the 2015–16 school year, the labs are in Meehan, 3001 Ryan Ave.; Murrell Dobbins,, 2150 W. Lehigh Ave.; The U School, 2000 N. 7th St.; Franklin Learning Center, 616 N. 15th St.; and The Academy at Palumbo, 11th and Catharine streets in South Philadelphia.

Ten schools will be added in the 2016–17 school year, with 12 more schools included the following year.

At Meehan, the project includes classroom and after-school learning. The seventh- and eighth-grade students have enjoyed the experience.

“I want to be a software engineer when I grow up, and I wanted the basic knowledge how to edit,” said eighth-grader Raman Sharma Phuyal, who came here from Nepal three years ago. “This has helped me a lot with editing.”

Raman edited most of a bullying video that included interviews with students and teachers. The video was runner-up among middle schools in a School District of Philadelphia computer science fair.

Raman’s classmate, Jeramiah Garcia, also participates in the after-school program, which began on Nov. 1 and runs for two hours each Monday and Wednesday. Up to a dozen students are regulars.

“I signed up because I was very interested in editing things,” Jeramiah said. “I started liking the whole editing thing. It will help me a lot if I do it in a career in the future.”

In all, the equipment costs $22,000, and will be available for use years into the future, long after the current students move on.

Andrew Skopp, a Meehan technology teacher, is the lead instructor for the program, appointed by longtime principal Mary Jackson. He has helped identify students who’d get the most out of the initiative. He directs the students in group projects.

“I applied because I wanted to try something new,” said eighth-grader Brandon Foley. “Mr. Skopp is a good teacher, and I’ve liked the editing, acting, everything.”

On June 7, WHYY, 150 N. 6th St., will host a two-hour screening of the best videos produced by students from all five schools. The public is invited.

WHYY’s Lisa Wilk is the Media Labs project manager. She’s been on board at Meehan and the other four schools since September.

“It’s been really great,” she said. “A lot of schools don’t have the equipment and instruction we’re giving. It’s a great thing. It’s a way to reach kids in the city and have relationships with schools. We’re making a big network.”

The after-school program at Meehan, consisting of two 15-week sessions, takes place in the library, which hasn’t been staffed in nine years and contains some books that haven’t been checked out since the 1970s. Only the copy machine gets used.

Skopp applied to WHYY last July, with Jackson’s backing.

“We have a massive space not being utilized,” he said. “The room is so viable. It’s a nice library with plenty of lighting. Kids are so tech-savvy these days, and to get new technology in the building is thrilling. It’s a great fit for WHYY and a great fit for us.”

The students who stay after school twice a week really benefit, in Skopp’s view.

“They have a little more free rein,” he said. “They have a chance to be themselves and be outgoing and personable.”

Saleem Ahmed, an associate media instructor at WHYY, oversees the after-school program and also meets with four or five classes during a 70-minute period each Monday.

Ahmed agrees with Skopp that the after-school program is particularly beneficial.

“They have freedom, and they’re having fun,” he said. “These guys keep coming back because it’s fun, and they’re getting experience with the equipment.”

At Meehan, seven teachers signed up their classes for the program.

“WHYY has given us the resources, and Saleem is fantastic,” Skopp said.

Though the program will officially end at Meehan at the end of the school year, Ahmed will continue to visit once a week after school next year.

So far this year, he has taught the students a wide range of skills: high-quality images, slide shows, voice, skits/plays, script writing, stop motion, green screen, documentary/narrative, lighting, space utilization and sound test.

“They enjoy it, and they’re learning at the same time,” Ahmed said. ••

Saleem Ahmed sets up a school computer for video editing. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

Tech savy: WHYY operates a media lab at Austin Meehan Middle School. Dimonique Myrick and Jahmya Bishop sit in front of the green screen and camera to rehearse a news report. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO