Young Preservationists Association and a group of Perry Traditional Academy students create a podcast discussing the value of neighborhood preservation.
By: Neil Strebig
Preservation isn’t exactly a topic that will have students racing to class on time.
But free breakfast might.
Christian Hughes would wake up at 5 a.m. and start making pancakes and sausage for students in his broadcasting class at Perry Traditional Academy in Observatory Hill in hopes it would peak their attendance and engagement.
Fortunately for Hughes, it worked.
“A lot of it had to go from student-to-teacher to human-to-human,” said Hughes. “Once they felt like we weren’t just here to teach them something and that we also cared about their well-being and we cared about the way in which they learned. That’s what really added to the attendance and engagement factor.”
The delicious aid of flapjacks helped spurn the completion of The Preservation Podcast. The podcast is part of a Young Preservationists Association (YPA) program designed by Hughes and YPA executive director, Matthew Craig that helps demonstrate the value of preservation to younger generations.
“We wanted to be more actively engaged in high school programming for preservation,” said Craig.
The Preservation Podcast was built from a partnership with the YPA, Perry Traditional Academy and Northside’s own Saturday Light Brigade (SLB). Additional funding for the program came courtesy of the Sprout Fund and Remake Learning. The combined partnership allowed Hughes and the YPA the chance to connect with high school students, not just through the importance of neighborhood preservation, but also through the introduction of a new style of communication with audio recording and podcasting.
“I think they learned things they didn’t before,” said SLB executive director Larry Berger.
According to Berger, the SLB staff helped Hughes with the recording equipment and producing of the show. However, the script writing and style of Preservation Podcast was controlled by the students under Hughes’ direction.
Hughes wanted to allow the students a chance to connect to both the show and the idea of preservation. To him, it was about “getting it to mean something to them.”
“If this is the neighborhood I live in then what is that level of pride and responsibility through preservation that I can echo,” said Hughes.
In addition to making a continental breakfast, Hughes found himself taking another unorthodox route to ensure the students were engaged and getting the most out of this experience. He integrated Snapchat into his curriculum. The plan was to first help the students understand “what they were going to do” with the podcast through an application they were already actively using before working with SLB and the new audio equipment.
By utilizing Snapchat Hughes was able to have the students play back recordings of themselves to each other. With Snapchat, he realized he was able to speak and identify with students on their terms. In doing so, Hughes was able to effectively break down the formality of the class.
“You have to find a way to make a connection,” Craig said. “[You] find a way to dignify who they are.”
Once that wall was dissolved, Hughes began to see students taking greater ownership of the program, the topics and the value of preservation. It’s something he admits wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t able to acutely “connect” with the class.
Something Craig referred to as the “light bulb” effect where all the pieces of the program started to seamlessly work together and everyone involved began to see the class really take off.
“You can’t draw water from an empty well. Part of our responsibility was to provide the information that the student would need to have an informed discussion,” said Craig. “Preservation means nothing if you can’t recognize your own worth in the experience.”
Hughes and Craig noticed that after each class and each recording the students started to realize more and more that preservation wasn’t just about the past. It was understanding the past and their role in the neighborhood’s future.
Berger who worked primarily behind the scenes on the project noted that majority of the students demonstrated a positive response by the time the class recorded the series’ last episode.
“[I] think it provides a sense of hope,” Berger said. “By understanding your history you can improve your future.”