Ending & Beginning

This past week was our final one working with our TMS Boston scholars in the Computer Clubhouse at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club. On Monday and Thursday, we held our final classes of the workshop, and on Friday we hosted our finale showcase, where our scholars had the opportunity to share their completed “Where I’m From” digital stories with their fellow Club member peers, with Club staff and administrators, and, most importantly, with their family members who were able to attend the showcase.


Our scholars spent the final two classes in post-production, working with Fellows and interns on taking their digital content and editing and organizing it all into a final product in iMovie. After reviewing each others’ draft versions of their digital stories, scholars provided each other with feedback on how they could improve their stories. All of the scholars’ agreed that their stories could benefit from more scholar-produced imagery, and so we worked together as a TMS team (scholars and Fellows and interns alike) to take photos and videos, with everyone rotating the responsibility of being the camera operator or the director or an actor. Once these last acts of production were finished, scholars focused the rest of their class time (as well as some of their free time outside of class) in post-production. Fellows and interns worked with scholars to help them learn the intricacies of iMovie, and slowly but surely each scholar’s digital story came together. By the end of class on Thursday, our scholars had completed their “Where I’m From” digital stories, and were ready to share them with the world.


The next day was the finale showcase, and each scholar arrived early for TMS class. It was evident to all of us that they were both excited and somewhat nervous to share their digital stories. We had each scholar cue up their digital story on separate iMacs on different tables in the middle of the Computer Clubhouse. We discussed how scholars should introduce their stories, and encouraged them to share with their audience about the process they went through in making their digital stories as well as what they learned in doing so.


At 3:00 pm, one scholar’s father and another scholar’s grandmother arrived right on time for the showcase. We explained to them that they could view their scholar’s and the other scholars’ stories at that time, but that we would wait for more audience members to arrive in order to share all of the stories at once. Thus, in the meantime, we would encourage visitors to view scholars’ stories in a “gallery walk” fashion at their leisure. The scholar whose grandmother had arrived first wanted to wait for his father to be present to show his story, and so his grandmother graciously respected his wish and waited. Over time, some Club members and staff filtered into the Computer Clubhouse and rotated to each scholar’s table and watched their digital story with them. Our scholars did a great job of explaining the genesis of their stories and the process they went through in making them. By around 3:45 pm, we reach a critical mass of audience members in the room, including South Boston Boys and Girls Club leadership and the father of the scholar who was anxiously awaiting his arrival. At that time, I asked for everyone’s attention and welcomed them to our TMS finale showcase. I explained what TMS does as an organization, as well as what our scholars did over the course of our workshop. Then, each scholar was presented with a certificate by a Fellow or intern who had worked closely with them on their digital story. And finally we held a mass viewing of each scholar’s digital story.


The last story to be shown was that of the scholar who had his grandmom and his father in attendance. I could tell that he was both excited and anxious to show his story. Even I was somewhat anxious, as I knew that the scholar shared some very personal things about his family, and his dad in particular, in his story. What made me slightly nervous was when the scholar speaks about his father’s occupation as an electrician, and how his father has always pushed his son to do something “more than” being an electrician. The scholar speaks eloquently and powerfully about how his father and mother want what is best for him, and want him to succeed, and don’t want him to struggle in the same manner that they have had to struggle at times to provide for themselves and their family. I was slightly nervous because you can never truly tell how someone who is not completely familiar with digital storytelling will react when part of their story is being told by a loved one. I watched the family as they and the rest of the audience watch the digital story. From the very beginning, the scholar was sitting in a seat in front of the computer, and his father stood behind him with his hands on his son’s shoulders, while the scholar’s grandmom stood to their side. All three of them watched and listened intently throughout the story. When it came to an end, amidst the applause of the audience, the scholar looks up at his dad who was looking down at him. He told his son that he was proud of him and that he loved him, and he gave him a kiss on his forehead.


After the applause died and the crowd dispersed, the scholar took his father and grandmom into the media room to show them how he mad made his digital story. As he did so, I watched from afar. I was proud of him for telling his truth, and happy for him that he got to share it with his family that cares about so much, and who obviously love him beyond my ability to comprehend. I was proud of my scholars, each of whom had opened themselves up and given their all to their digital stories and to each other. I was proud of Franklin, Nicole, and Sam, and all the hard work they had put into guiding and supporting our scholars. I was proud of TMS, as much a movement as it is an organization, and one that has amplified the voices of youth near and far.


But what I felt more viscerally than any other emotion was a simple but powerful awe. Awe at the stories of our scholars. Awe at the power of their stories. Awe at the power of storytelling – to create, to connect, to liberate.


And awe at the fact that while this moment was in many ways an ending, it was also a beginning.


And for that, I am beyond grateful.


Ever onward.


– Rich


Intern, Sam’s reflections on the experience of working with The Modern Story:

Since TMS was essentially my first job working with kids, it really taught me about the challenges and numerous benefits of this practice. It taught me that to work with kids you must put yourself out there and although that is difficult at points, you will see results and wonderful relationships form as a result. The Modern Story aims to get children to see themselves and their world through a different lens that they may not always have the opportunity to use. During my time with TMS I saw that this ability lies within all of the children we worked with and they simply needed someone to hand them the tools to express it. 



Where I’m From

A "Where I'm From" script draftThe first two weeks of our TMS Boston workshop have been an exciting and engaging experience for Fellows and scholars alike. Our first class focused on introducing ourselves to each other, as well as introducing our scholars to digital storytelling. After an initial icebreaker and a brief discussion about Community Code – how we would treat each other and, ultimately, create a safe space for us to share out stories with each other during our TMS classes – I shared my “Where I’m From” digital story. In planning the workshop, the other Fellows and I decided to encourage the scholars to create their own “Where I’m From” digital stories as a result of the high level of interest expressed by the Boys and Girls Club members when we showed them “Where I’m From” digital stories created by TMS Newark (NJ) Scholars during our recruiting efforts for the TMS Boston workshop. The members became noticeably energized and inquisitive when we followed the “Where I’m From” digital stories with a selection of those made by TMS Hyderabad scholars and informed them that the digital stories they would make in our TMS Boston workshop would provide them with the opportunity to share about themselves, their community, and their culture with TMS scholars in India and beyond. Based on their enthusiasm and interest, we decided to model our own digital stories in this manner.


I was admittedly nervous about sharing my digital story, as it is the first one I’ve ever made, and it addresses some very personal experiences and issues that mean a great deal to me. Most importantly, I hoped that my digital story would serve as a good example and even an inspiration to the Scholars in their envisioning of their own stories that they would be telling. To my relief and delight, as soon as my story finished, everyone in the classroom started clapping immediately, and I knew from that moment onward that we would be able to accomplish great things within such a supportive community of digital storytellers.


One of our Fellow interns, Sam, showed her digital story after mine, and she too received a rousing ovation from the scholars.

After viewing both digital stories, we discussed the common themes between both of them, as well as the different images and Sam and I had used to tell our story. The scholars then brainstormed a list of images they would potentially use in their own “Where I’m From” digital stories and shared them with each other. Since it was their first time sharing with each other, some of the scholars were a bit timid, but once the “sharing juices” got flowing, those who were quiet began to participate, and we got to see how many great ideas were percolating amongst our eager scholars.


The rest of the first class was devoted to discussing general storytelling principles and practices, what digital storytelling is and what are the elements that go into making a digital story, and what type of digital stories the scholars would be making as new members of TMS. We ultimately ran out of time by the end of the first class due to th fact that the discussions we were engaging in had every scholar participating and contributing their ideas and opinions. The energy level was high, every scholar was engaged with each topic, and the scholars would build off of each others’ ideas while showing an impressive respect for each other and our collective space. My fellow TMS Fellow, Franklin, as well as the Fellow interns, Sam and Nicole, came away from the first class very impressed by ur scholars and energized for the classes to come.


The second, third, and fourth classes served to ease the scholars into the digital storytelling process, with the goal of having them draft their scripts during the second class, complete their scripts and storyboards in the third class, and actively producing audio and visual content in classes 3 and 4 during the second week. After Nicole shared her “Where I’m From” story at the beginning of class 2, scholars shared about a personal object that reminded them of where they’re from that we asked them to speak about with their peers.

This served as a good segue to sharing the TMS Newark scholars’ digital stories as an example of what our scholars could do with their own “Where I’m From” stories. After viewing these videos, scholars spent the remaining time brainstorming ideas for their stories and turning their ideas into scripts. Class 3 had scholars finishing their scripts and turning them into storyboards. Fellows and interns worked with scholars to adapt their ideas into scripts and storyboards that worked best for each individual scholar’s style. For example, one scholar expressed himself best verbally, and so Nicole decided that it would be best to ask him the brainstorming questions we had prepared for the scholars and to record his responses. In doing so, the scholar produced an impressive amount of audio narration content that they then worked together to cut down into more manageable pieces that could be edited into the final digital story. Two other scholars preferred to write short poems in the mold of the TMS Newark scholars, and so Sam and Franklin helped them complete their scripts and storyboards in a manner that supported their vision and complemented their skills. Class 4 had Fellows teaching scholars about audio (voiceovers and sounds) and visual (photos and videos) production using our digital cameras. After putting the finishing touches on their scripts and storyboards (their “text” content), scholars began creating their audio and visual content. They recorded their voiceovers, took photos, and researched images online that matched their text content. Scholars also began working on iMovie on the Boys and Girls Club’s iMacs in their Computer Clubhouse media room with support from Fellows and interns alike.

At the end of two weeks of TMS classes, and with only one more week to go, I find myself beyond inspired by our scholars and my peers. We are all working together to bring our stories to life, and in doing so, we are learning about each other and ourselves. It strikes me that this is the point. This is the reason we are doing what we are doing. This is why TMS does what it does. This is why I wanted to serve as a fellow. Because I believe we all have a great to deal share with and to learn from others, and that such elemental acts of reciprocity and respect are the primary means by which we may change our lives, our communities, and our world for the better. I am grateful for this experience, for my colleagues, and for my scholars. And I look forward to our final classes together.

Meet Rich

We are all scholars. This is what I tell the students, families, and educators whom I’ve served as a scholar myself. We all have knowledge of value to share with one another, and we all have the capacity both to learn and to teach. It is only by engaging each other as scholars – to learn as we teach, and to teach as we learn – that we can begin to access the innumerable learning networks that surround us. I believe that there is never a time nor a place that we are not learning, and as such I’ve always been in “school,” and I’ve always been a scholar.

My first teacher was my mother. Not because her profession deemed her so – as she has always been a teacher, and a great one at that – but rather because of her approach to how she raised me. The places she brought me and the experiences to which she exposed me were all focused on my development as a learner. Whether it was reading to me every day, or her encouragement of my love for Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, or our frequent trips to parks and the local library, I learned from an early age that learning was not a compartmentalized practice within this act called “living,” but rather the essential element of life itself.

For as long as I can remember, stories have been my favorite form of learning. As a child, some of my most cherished memories are of my mother and father and teachers reading stories to me, and the best gifts I received were the books that transported me to far-away lands and introduced me to amazing characters and cultures. As an adult, I regularly immerse myself in all manner of storytelling, from novels to short stories to to documentary films to op-eds to interviews to simple stories told by elders at the kitchen table or over an evening fire.

I first joined TMS not as a Teaching Fellow, but as an ally who shared a vision for developing transformative models for community-based education. Having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Zambia and as a community school director in West Philadelphia, I was immediately drawn to the work of The Modern Story and the stories of its students when I first met Remy and Piya in 2013. As I got to know TMS’ founders and as I gradually educated myself about digital storytelling, I couldn’t resist my growing desire to play a role in helping The Modern Story grow and evolve so that it can serve children like my scholars at Wilson Community School in West Philly, and my families in Katukutu village in Central Province, Zambia.

So, having spent the past year and a half working on various strategic planning projects, I now face my most challenging TMS role yet – to do the work that is most important and serve as a TMS Teaching Fellow. Over the course of the month of July, I have the great responsibility and incredible opportunity to work with TMS scholars in the Computer Clubhouse at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club. We will be learning about digital storytelling, watching and discussing the digital stories of TMS scholars from Hyderabad, India and other communities around the world, and creating our own personal digital stories. With that in mind, I am proud to share the first digital story I’ve ever made. I’d like to dedicate it to my family, my friends, my teachers, and my scholars. In so many ways, there are all but one in the same. Because we are all scholars, and I am because we are.


Our Environment

Although the Final Celebration at Railway was the official showcase and end to TMS classes, we all decided to have small-scale celebrations at our AIF schools for the students who could not make it out to Railway.  We were lucky to have a few special visitors for those celebrations, including Liz Jones, a friend from the American Consultate in Hyderabad, who came out to meet the students at MGM and watch the screening of their video On the Road: Traffic in Hyderabad.  She was greeted by the customary sea of students and the chorus of “Hello m’am’s,” and interacted warmly and patiently with the onslaught.  The girls were so excited to have a visitor and to get a chance to examine the Ipad she brought along to teach them about the Consulate’s webpage and Facebook site.  She also took a lovely class photo for us and offered to cross-post the video on the Consulate’s webpage to help spread the video’s important message about pedestrian rights.

We are so proud of the videos the girls have produced this semester. Aside from all the work that went into writing, directing, shooting, and planning these video projects, many of our students also engaged in service learning projects that taught them how to become change-makers in their communities. It was truly inspiring to see this realization take hold in them. I look forward to hearing about the progress of these different projects — the TMS garden and clean-up project and the efforts of the girls at MGM to bring attention to the dismal conditions of the roads and hazards to pedestrians in front of their school.

Samantha’s Railway Class: Our Environment

Sultan Bazar: Our Time in TMS

Our Time in TMS from The Modern Story on Vimeo.

MGM School: On the Road

On the Road: Traffic in Hyderabad from The Modern Story on Vimeo.

Great job, girls! Your teachers are so proud of you!


TMS Final Celebration

Yesterday we had the TMS final video showcase and celebration.  It definitely snuck up on us.  One second it was the beginning of November and time seemed like it was passing at a normal rate.  All of a sudden we blinked and here we are — two days away from leaving Hyderabad, our home of the last six months,  with holiday news from home trickling in as we get closer and closer to the new year.



TMS Final Celebration! from The Modern Story on Vimeo.


Reflecting on the last five months is a daunting task.  While we’ve accomplished a lot, Stella and I have discussed the mutual feeling that we could have done so much more.  Such is the nature of most work that comes with a definite end date — you are always left with the nagging reminder of all the ideas that didn’t materialize and realizations that things could have been done better or more efficiently.  With some time to process everything that’s gone on in the last month, I’m sure we all will come to see a clearer picture of our time here, and gain a sense of the impact of this truly unique and incredible experience that has been the last five months.  Right now though,  it just feels like a whirlwind.

That being said, the event itself was a great end-note to our semester.  For the first time we had students from all five TMS schools — Sultan Bazar, MGM, New Nallaguta, Audiah Memorial, and Railway — together in one room to share in the celebration.  We arrived and hour before the ceremony to find the auditorium filled with hyper, buzzing students who had just finished setting up the seating.  They were clearly glowing with excitement to showcase their work, and there was the tangible feeling that they were lingering after they had finished their work so that they could spend every possible moment together as a group before TMS came to an end.   My girls played dress up with me and stuffed me into a very bright, glittery saree to mark the momentous occasion.

The film screening was a huge success.  The students who have participated in the program produced videos on a wide variety of topics, from the future of our environment, to examining identity and gender roles, to the consequences of political agitation.  Not only did students discuss and examine these thought-provoking and important topics, but they had to approach them from unique angles and consider how they could present their views to an audience.  The results were truly inspiring.

We closed the ceremony by presenting each student with a certificate, individual evaluation, class photo, and (most importantly) American Halloween candy.  As Pabhaker closed out the ceremony and invited all the guests to a reception in the computer lab, it was clear that neither students nor teachers were ready to say goodbye.  We lingered awkwardly with the visiting schools, beaming at the students and repeatedly praising their work.  They smiled back almost pityingly, trying to reassure us that it would be ok.  It was clear that neither group wanted to leave.  Once we finally tore ourselves away from the auditorium, it took us nearly another hour to say farewell to the Railway students and the grounds that have come to feel like our second home.   All in all, it was a lovely end to what has been a tremendous experience and learning process for all those involved — both students and teachers alike.


News and Thoughts As We Near the Finish Line

It is absolutely unbelievable but it is somehow true – we have hit the beginning of the end of our stay in Hyderabad. We had our last classes at 4 of our schools yesterday, and we have two more classes at Railway before we are officially done teaching. The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind as we have been working up to our culminating event, the TMS Final Showcase to be held at the Railway Girls High School on Monday, December 5th. The event will feature short presentations by students from each of our 5 schools followed by screenings of their work. And we are also excited to host the founders and leaders of Vinoothna Geetha Media, a local production company, as well as representatives from the America India Foundation, as our Chief Guests for the event. It is the first time TMS has put together a final celebration of this magnitude, and we are thrilled to see how excited the students are for the event! We look forward to reporting back with many photos and videos, taken by the students of course!

Before we completely finished our jobs as teachers here, I did want to share a few thoughts on a topic that has repeatedly come up in our classrooms, our conversations, and our blog posts – language. India has 22 official languages listed its Constitution, and many more dialects. And language, as our students tell us, is a huge representation of identity. The language that each person speaks is a statement of their regional and/or religious and/or ethnic identity. The official language of Andhra Pradesh is Telugu but Muslims in Andhra Pradesh speak mostly Urdu and then ethnic Tulu people in Andhra Pradesh speak Tulu while many highly educated people only speak English with a native fluency. And each state has its own list of distinct languages that match its own unique make up of identities. So naturally, this becomes a problem for education, particularly in big cities where all of these different identity groups with their distinct mother tongues live side by side in the same school districts. Schools must ask, in what language should we teach? The solution in most areas is that government schools teach in different mediums. In Hyderabad, most schools will have each grade split into Telugu Medium, Urdu Medium, and English Medium sections. So then it is the students and families that must ask, in what language should we learn? Many choose English. Families hope that if their kid is studying in English from a young age, they will become fluent. And this is in a sense the most concrete effort they can make towards a bigger future for their kid. For one, English, possibly more than Hindi, is transferrable throughout India and definitely around the world. Knowing English gives students access to the world in a way that most of our students’ parents do not have. Additionally, most schools only teach 11th and 12th grade in English and college is almost exclusively taught in English, so if you hope to study beyond 10th grade, you would be well-advised to start Kindergarten in English.

So what’s the problem? Well, we have been teaching 8th and 9th grade students, many of whom have supposedly been studying in English medium for many years, and they all hover within a range of non-fluency in English. It leaves us wondering how they learn in their other classes. In my classes at AIF, which I teach in Telugu, I have a mixture of Telugu and English Medium students. I have often noticed a far better command of subject matter and sometimes even a higher level of confidence expressing ideas among the Telugu Medium students. After all, school and learning are tough, so naturally the students who get to go through it in their mother tongue would have a leg up. The English medium students just don’t get it all the time because they don’t understand the language the teacher is speaking. So this means that to some degree, students are having to choose between a better education in a language that limits their opportunities, and a better command of English with a quality of education that limits their opportunities. How frustrating that must be! I absolutely think students should learn English and become good at it. But in the long term, I think it should become possible and mainstream for students to study and become experts in any subject in their local language – if a kid is born in Andhra Pradesh to a family that only speaks Telugu and can’t afford private school, wants to attend school and study really hard and become expert in a subject, start a business in Hyderabad that deals only in this area and become successful, shouldn’t that be a possibility? Shouldn’t they be able to live their lives and be great in Telugu if they want to? After all, they do live in a place where Telugu is the official language, and the only language they ever hear. The British are responsible for many higher education institutions in India, which is partly why there is a widespread tradition of learning in English. But rather than being content with thinking this is appropriate in the modern world, I wonder if regional governments now have a responsibility to make a change?