Soapbox pilots Voices of Youth project with CPS Summer Scholars

As the 2021-2022 school year drew to a close, not everyone was packing their bags for vacation. Some students and teachers across Cincinnati were preparing to get right back to work. And, this year, Soapbox was right there with them as a partner during their Summer Scholars program.

CPS’s Summer Scholars program has been offered for two summers at every school in the district. The month-long enrichment program engages students in subjects and studies they might not experience during the traditional school calendar.

The program is one way CPS is meeting its goals for recovery after educational losses experienced by students during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s also an opportunity for students to connect with community partners and develop their own personal and professional skills and goals.

The 2022 Summer Scholars program kicked off on June 1st. This year, Soapbox stepped in as a new partner at Shroder High School in Madisonville, offering a month-long Voices of Youth mentorship program for students interested in journalism, digital publishing, and journalistic photography.

Building the “village”

Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) has a working relationship with a variety of community partners (like Soapbox), which are often brokered through the schools’ community resource coordinators. One such partner is Dream Builders University (DBU), a student enrichment and leadership training program that bridges the gap between teachers and students through extra-curricular programming.

This summer, Dream Builders University provided the day-to-day coordination at Shroder High School’s Summer Scholars program.

Antonio Broadnax was the one on-the-ground every day at Shroder, putting together the student schedules and keeping the Summer Scholars program moving along. He is VP of Student Services at Dream Builders and manages their year-round CPS programing.

Dream Builders University was founded in 2015 by LaMarque' Ward Sr., a childhood friend of Broadnax. Broadnax was recruited shortly after. With their combined experience in life coaching, job training, business consulting, and mentoring, their organization provides a unique, professional angle to extra-curricular programs.

All throughout the year, Dream Builders recruits outside vendors like health and fitness coaches, financial literacy programs, photography teachers, and arts instructors to provide unique and valuable opportunities to students in schools across the CPS district. Broadnax says that DBU focuses a lot on developing students’ social and emotional skills through these enrichment programs, while also providing the professional and life skills students will need outside of school.

While some of the Summer Scholars facilitators—including Soapbox—partnered directly with CPS, Dream Builders recruited others to fill out the month-long program. Broadnax says that the quality of the program was evident in the enthusiasm of the students. The summer program doesn’t last long, he admits, but it leaves a lasting impact.

Antonio Broadnax, VP of Student Services at Dream Builders “The kids all left wanting more,” he says. “It was obvious they gained something and were excited about what they were doing in their classes.”

Broadnax says that the goal of these summer enrichment programs is to create “a full circle” for the students.

He explains:

“We want to create a circle for these kids--kid to school to community. These enrichment programs are creating a village around these kids to help them become better individuals. We take a family or village approach to provide them what they need once they’re outside this circle.”

Amplifying youth voices

Voices of Youth is new to Cincinnati, but not a new project. Similar journalism projects have launched across Michigan by some of Issue Media Group’s (IMG) other publications and the project is expanding into new markets.

Brian Boyle, co-Chief Executive Officer of IMG, says that the Voices of Youth project grew out of a growing void in public awareness of the issues facing youth today.

He explains:

“There are no longer youth reporters in local media. No one is speaking about the issues facing youth. And there is a relationship between a lack of media attention on an issue and the erosion of public attention to the issue.”

The fact that youth aren’t connected to local media, he says, combined with explosion of social media, means youth feel less connected to their physical community and its civic structure.

“How do we amplify youth voices in media to increase policy attention and resources around the issues of youth?” he asks. “Can we connect youth to their community in a different way?”

Boyle suggests that projects like Voices of Youth can be a part of the solution. By mentoring and empowering young writers and journalists to tell their own stories, IMG hopes to place youth voices back into the local media’s conversation about community needs and solutions.
Brian Boyle, co-Chief Executive Officer of IMGThe project aligns perfectly with the mission of IMG, whose goal is to “to connect readers to their city’s most visionary and active people, businesses and organizations – increasing the openness, aesthetics, and social offerings of communities.”

Boyle and the IMG team are actively promoting the VOY project to all publishing markets. After making the connection to Community Partnerships at Cincinnati Public Schools, who he notes “quickly understood the potential for this program,” IMG and Soapbox made the decision to bring the project here. Because Summer Scholars’ structure of classes and enrollment was already in place, the summer program was a great fit to pilot the project.

“This type of work is critical in any community,” Boyle insists, “and we found the right partner in Cincinnati Public Schools.”

A month of teaching and mentoring

In May of 2022, before school ended, three Soapbox staff engaged seventh and eighth grade students at Shroder High School in listening sessions about the issues facing youth and how local media could help expose these issues and find solutions. In addition to gauging the level of student interest in the Voices of Youth project, these sessions guided the theme of the project as it developed into the summer.

Once students were enrolled and the Summer Scholars program launched, Soapbox staff directed students through the process of choosing a subject for their collaborative stories. Together, they decided to write about the topic of student jobs and how to secure employment.

The Voices of Youth project team from Soapbox included co-project managers who are also educators, a contributing writer, contributing photographer, and an intern from Ohio Northern. Throughout the month, each stepped in to teach classes and mentor students through the process of research, writing, photojournalism, and publishing.

Seven seventh and eighth grade students actively participated over the course of the month, with four students showing a particular interest in the journalistic process and jumping in to accomplish the bulk of the class work. (Summer Scholars is not a required program for CPS students. Students are not required to maintain attendance and participation for the whole month.)

Topics included all steps of the journalism process--identifying newsworthiness, choosing a subject, preparing for and executing an interview, transcription, structuring a story, social media promotion, photography, etc. Students were given opportunities to research, interview subjects, and write their own stories. They also discussed best practices for digital promotion after their stories were to be published.

As the Summer Scholars program ended, the Voices of Youth project continued into July as Soapbox staff and student writers worked to complete their stories and prepare them for publication.

Voices of Youth students (front row) l to r, Tamia and Lorraine, (back) writer Liz McEwan with KendallThe Voices of Youth project was a learning process for all involved. While the students attained new skills in journalism and digital publishing, Soapbox staff learned how to engage a new generation of budding journalists in finding—and amplifying—their own solutions to the issues facing youth today.

Voices of Youth is made possible with underwriting support from Cincinnati Public Schools.The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of Cincinnati Public Schools.

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Liz McEwan is a proud wife, mama, urbanite, musician and blogger. Follow her at The Walking Green and on twitter at @thewalkinggreen.