Justin Deutsch’s classroom is filled with an array of tools: about a half-dozen cameras, iMacs, a recording studio, and a couple of green screens. He uses these to teach students how to create multimedia projects, and in the process, learn more about themselves.
“When freshman come in, they can only kind of see the world through themselves, or they’re super worried on how everybody is perceiving them,” Deutsch said. “And it’s all about them, but as they get a little bit older, they can kind of learn it’s not about me, it doesn’t need to be about me.”
Deutsch teaches media and graphic design at The LINC High School, located at 122 W Erie Ave. in North Philadelphia. His students spend the semester producing two videos, each around two minutes long. They develop video production, sound editing, graphic design, and interviewing skills by producing personal stories that often run in partnership with major media organizations.
Videos produced in Deutsch’s class has appeared on PBS NewsHour and the Michener Museum in Doylestown, PA. Students spent this past spring producing videos documenting their experiences with democracy for a project in partnership with National Geographic.
Deutsch’s classes are an example of the hands-on approach to learning typical at the LINC , an approach called project-based learning, where the teachers facilitate group learning by giving the students opportunities to collaborate on projects with tangible outcomes.
In Deutsch’s classroom, students are sometimes given either concrete assignments or open-ended prompts and work together as a team to produce media projects.
However, the LINC didn’t always offer these experiential learning opportunities for students, said Rose Torres, the school’s counselor and certified administrator.
“The idea for project-based learning here at the LINC was a collaborative decision,” Torres said.
During the first year of the LINC’s existence, itused a more traditional style of learning known as the competency model. But after the first year with this model, the school district and faculty at the LINC wanted to give students a sense of ownership over their education with a more hands-on type of learning.
“The students have much more of a voice in what they’re learning,” Torres said. “The kids try to connect their projects to specific community issues. For example, I have seen a statistic project on both the murder rate and the opioid crisis. The idea is to see what the problem is and create a tangible project from that.”
Deutsch said with this style of learning, skills are reinforced through a project, rather than through a test. With this approach, students are able to connect their life experiences to their education.
Within these projects, Deutsch uses “micro-lessons” to sharpen the development of students’ skills during the assignments. He assigns work and lets the students do what they can. When they need help he teaches students as they continue to develop their projects.
“I want them to be able to think of something media-wise, plan it, create it,” Deutsch said. “I feel like media is a really important way to communicate at this point in history, no matter what they do.”
Deutsch’s goal is to give his students media skills they can use throughout their life. His students have gone on to make music videos, become actors, and work in graphic design.
Kayla Pitter-Newberry, senior at the LINC, was one of the first students to come to the school after its opening in 2014. After graduation, she will attend the Moore College of Art & Design and intends to focus on animation and game design.
“I would like to go into storyboarding as an artist and hopefully work for commercial television,” said Pitter-Newberry.
Pitter-Newberry uses a tablet to draw designs she incorporates into her work. She has been working on an animation video in partnership with Emmanuel Tapia, a fellow student, on homelessness and the shelter system for women in Philadelphia.
Tapia, better known as “Manny,” is also a senior at LINC. A movie poster he made hangs on the wall in Deutsch’s classroom. For fun, he produced a trailer for a horror movie featuring a machete-wielding killer’s point-of-view as he stalks the hallways of the LINC.
In the media classroom, he loves graphic design and movie editing but wants to pursue a career in automotive engineering.
“In a way, I do want to keep learning about graphic design,” Tapia said. “I will actually be the first in my family that will be going to college, so I will be representing my family.”
Students in Deutsch’s class said they gained an understanding of what media means to them and how to use new skills to communicate ideas. The main goal of the class is to allow free expression.
Kaiherra Jones, a LINC student since her junior year, is ready to graduate. She has been editing audio a lot this year, with her favorite project being a video story on head concussions and head impact sensors.
Jones’ transition to this style of learning came easy for her because she found her previous school to be more difficult and stressful.
“Media is important to what I want to do,” Jones said. “I want to do graphic design. What I learn in here, I can use towards my career.”
Deutsch’s class has worked closely with WHYY this past year. Not only have professionals come into the classroom to aid in learning and help teach lessons, but the students have gotten to use WHYY’s professional studio to work on videos for their class.
One project the class worked closely on was creating a video profiling Marissa Ciancuilli, a female business owner in South Philadelphia. Ciancuilli operates Super Signs, a vintage hand-painted sign shop.
Deutsch’s students were able to use the WHYY studio to record their video with Ciancuilli and gained experience learning how to conduct professional interviews. The students were also allowed to go off on their own and collect b-roll.
By being exposed to professional media production and media producers in Deutsch’s class, students have been able to find their voice and see potential for their own careers.
“Find what you want to do and keep doing it,” said Deutsch. “Have something very concrete that you can bring to the table that’s not just an interest.”
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