Monday, February 28, 2011

Thoughts before the start

Our partnership with Upstart is finally beginning but until we actually meet the young people we will be working with, it all feels abstract. We’ve met with Shireen Badat, the Project manager of Upstart and Tom and I are making plans, but it’s all going rather slowly because we haven’t really begun doing the practical work.

Before it does start, it is probably useful to consider the fact that the point of my partnership with Upstart is that it is supposed to operate as a form of in-service learning. As I understand it, in-service learning is on the same continuum as volunteering and community service. The main aim of service learning, however, is that I, as a provider of a service and Upstart, as the recipient, have equal benefit from the relationship. Because of this, there needs to be a balance between the emphasis on what I learn and the focus on the service I provide. So, with this in mind, I’m taking a few minutes to reflect on my feelings about the community I will be serving through this project, and what I think will be the importance of our project with Upstart.

Since it was first established, Upstart has concerned itself with enriching the lives of young people.  As I understand it, a central aim has to been to provide the ‘Upstarters’ with extra mural activities that will help them develop confidence as young adults. A key focus, in this context, is the development of writing and reading skills. Shireen, in our very first meeting, spoke about literacy levels being low amongst grade eight learners who are the part of the target group of Upstart. My sense is that the remedial programs that Upstart have started in and around Grahamstown to deal with this problem make an important contribution to this group. I think, however, that the medium of radio offers unique opportunities for these youths, over and above those that become possible in the context of print. In particular, through radio, they can express themselves in a way that would not be possible on paper.
I think that the importance of Upstart is that it provides young people with an opportunity for social agency, for self-expression and for learning. I think that Upstart Radio can take these goals that one step further by allowing the team to lift what is started in the Upstart newspaper off the page and bring it to the airwaves.
The youths at Upstart were told about the opportunity of being selected as part of the Upstart on Radio team. Their task was to write a motivational essay, stating why they think they should be chosen for the Upstart Radio team. Shireen has gone through these essays; Tom and I also have the opportunity of looking through them and in this way identify possible candidates for the short list.  On Tuesday, we will be interviewing these candidates, and then make the final selection for the team.
The essays were so sweet and I’m having a hard time deciding objectively who to pick and who to disappoint. Some of the children mentioned how proud their sick parent would be, others spoke about their hope for an opportunity such as this and that it may be the platform from which they can launch their continuity presenting careers.  One of them even apologised for not knowing any of RMR’s shows and explained that this was due to the signal not reaching her area of the township. How do I pick a child based on what s/he has written when I know that I don’t always sound convincing on paper? Tom, Shireen and I will ultimately have to pick six pupils from Upstart, whatever my feelings may be. The question is - do I put forward names based on how articulate they are? I think that this is what I will have to do because they will ultimately be on radio and need to express themselves as best as possible.
I also think that because they are only in high school, they may be used to a classroom format where they are told what to do and how to do it. I love to teach and show people how to do things, but that will only be doable as far as our workshops on the technical stuff will go. When it comes to actually doing radio, speaking, the script and how the personality of the show comes together, I think a lot of that will comes down to individual personalities and the chemistry of the team. Tom and I just might have our work cut out for us if the chemistry of the team has to be created.
From my tutoring work last year, I think I learned a great deal about how to produce good radio. From working with the second year students on a magazine show, my own work improved greatly in terms of news gathering, and producing stories.  My technical ‘ear’ also improved because of marking their work.

I think from this partnership I will learn how to work with people different to myself and of a different age group which I have shied away from in the past. No doubt, I will be exposed to different ways of thinking that I have to learn to appreciate. Because of this, I think this partnership presents me with an opportunity of learning how to adapt radio to a different age group and this is something that I will consciously have to keep in mind. The team may not be happy with a rigid form of radio, but will be focused on creating fun radio as defined by a teenager. This will be a learning process for me because I have only been taught a limited format of radio journalism, in context of the very structured J2 magazine show and my third year news and current affairs work.

One of the kids in his essay commented that last year’s shows were very boring.  I think that our challenge will be to make our show fun by 15-18 year old standards. This means that decisions we make towards what content we produce, the topics and the guests will have to be greatly informed by the team. This will also be an opportunity for them to consult with their friends and peers at school as a form of informal research that they conduct towards the creation of the show. Feedback from the Upstart team will also be important so that we can gage, from them as our part of the target age group, whether we are succeeding or needing to focus our shows a lot more.

I am also conscious that, whatever we achieve through the show will have to be decided in consultation with RMR. The station will be providing us with the airtime and it is imperative for us to produce a show that will meet the required standards.
 Let the training and research begin!

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