inspirED Case Study: re:imagine/ATL at Frederick Douglass High School

Project Name: re:imagine ATL

School Name: Frederick Douglass High School

Location: Atlanta, GA

Description: re:imagine/COMMUNITY is an after-school program that empowers youth to be the visual storytellers and changemakers in their community. The teens involved are all facing unique challenges such as youth homelessness, poverty, and anger management. Through the support of mentors and hands-on learning through filmmaking, students connect with their individual voice, a voice that can inform others of their struggles and help build a wave of change through education and empathy.

Introduction: Everyone has a story to tell. One of the most powerful ways to tell stories is through film and music. re:imagine/ATL uses film and music as tools to connect with one another and the world.  

The Opportunity: Studies show that helping others creates positive feelings, yet opportunities for youth in underserved areas to serve and help others is sometimes limited. Students in this program from one of the most under-resourced areas of Atlanta produced stories to help inspire other teens and to raise awareness about important issues. Re:imagine/COMMUNITY began at Frederick Douglass, a high school in West Atlanta with one of the lowest graduation rates. Students at this school face a variety of challenges and often are not empowered to take action to improve them, which can lead to an overarching sense of hopelessness and apathy. re:imagine/COMMUNITY is open to all students regardless of background, resources or preexisting media-creation ability.

The Project: Students worked together in small video crews twice a week to film and edit original public service announcement (PSA) music videos about issues facing their community, like limited access to food, internet, or ways to be active. Core elements of the project include team building (working on-set as a crew), production skills (process start to finish) for real clients, and community engagement (trips to studio and special guests). A collaboration of professional videographers, college film students, local topic experts and volunteers from businesses supported the student’s work and cultivated a hands-on learning community throughout production. During this creative process crews brainstormed music video concepts, drafted storyboards and shot lists, and picked locations for filming.

The videos included original music written and recorded by the students with the help of local professional rappers and producers. The opportunity to record their songs in a professional studio was a life-defining moment for some students, building confidence in their ability to create and share their voice and ideas with others.

Another team of students in re:imagine/ATL’s after-school program learned filmmaking by producing a mini-documentary about their community, showing the positive and challenging elements of the school and neighborhood that is known for its “bad reputation.” The documentary challenges stereotypes of the community and helped students gain empathy and understanding as they interviewed different alumni, leaders, teachers, students, and others in the neighborhood.

The Impact: Multiple students involved in the program reported improvements in mental health and a decrease in suicidal thoughts. One teacher said one of their more troubled and angry students is now completely different–more positive, focused and emotionally stable–because of the support of and participation in the program. Students reported increases in personal confidence, goals, and plans for jobs beyond school (whereas before when asked where they saw themselves in 5 years they reported “I don’t know”, “in jail,” or “dead”). These students and mentors formed a community and found empowerment, hope and enjoyment in learning media creation skills, learning how to critically assess community issues and develop solutions, and having a supportive group to meet with every week. Students made new friendships, met experts and community leaders from around Atlanta, and discovered their own voices and ability to reach broader audience. The school has limited resources and the program improved students’ emotional states by providing mentorship support and connections to counselors (when needed), a safe place after school, opportunities to film and visit new areas of Atlanta, community service hours, and pride in their finished videos, school and neighborhood. This empowerment will spread as the program continues and these students engage their friends and peers and take these skills into other areas of their lives.

re:imagine/ATL helped me with many different types of problems. I had trouble knowing myself and this program actually contributed to my life. A great group of people came to our school to help us understand how to help others.
Jordan Smith, Freshmen student

The Future: Educators at the school are working with the alumni network right now to help provide additional support to students during the summer to keep them engaged in positive activities and support them towards their goals when school is not in session. re:imagine/ATL is also offering some of the students paid job opportunities to continue to train them to use filmmaking as a positive way to tell another person’s story, perspective and to help positively change their school and neighborhood. re:imagine/ATL will continue to invest in students at Frederick Douglass High School and other high schools by providing resources, and curriculum online for others to replicate the program. They will also continue to invest in building a network of connections with Atlanta Workforce Development and the growing film industry in Atlanta to help provide students with internship, work and mentorship opportunities.

“Build relationships with organizations and people outside of your school to help support both you and your students. Project-based learning with mentors outside of school will grow your student’s network and will expose them to new opportunities.”

— Julie Foster-Straw, faculty advisor