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.

TMS students take on ‘freedom’ in final projects

Azadi. Swecha. Freedom.

No matter the language or dialect, freedom (or lack thereof) is an idea that humans around the world grapple with everyday. For students at Seetaphalmandi Government High School in Secunderabad, Hyderabad, and MGM Girls Government High School in Nampally, Hyderabad, this idea lent inspiration for their final projects.

Students at both the schools participated in a social media campaign called #TMSFreedomIs. Using this hashtag, students reflected on what freedom means to them, took photos representing this idea, and shared their thoughts on Instagram. This allowed their ideas to extend to a wider and more interactive network of people. We also talked about what it means to be responsible on social media, an important lesson as kids start to use social networks at a younger age than ever before. The campaign lasted about three weeks and we saw responses from people in Delhi, South Africa, Minnesota, and Boston. It was a great lesson in how to use social media to create productive conversation.

Then students reflected on how they wanted to share their ideas of freedom with the world, which is where the two schools differed.

MGM: Freedom for girls has always been a point of lengthy discussion at this all-girls school. As we talked more and more about what freedom means to us, it became clear that freedom for girls is an issue that the class cared deeply about. Due to this, students at MGM split into various groups and completed interviews, research, and creative interpretations of freedom in order to create a varied look at freedom from a girls’ perspective. Though there is a ways to go, the girls agreed that talking about the issues is a very important first step, especially since issues like child marriage and the ability to go outside the home stem from family. The girls created a print magazine to accompany the documentary in order to show their families and community to start the discussion about freedom for girls at a local level. Check out their ambitious film here:


Seetaphalmandi: Since the students devoted a few weeks to a classroom exchange with a school in Thailand (and had already done a documentary project), we focused more on letting the kids dictate what they wanted to see from the project. In their video, you will see their social media contributions, a poster project, and interpretations of what freedom means to them. Students at Seetaphalmandi are always enthusiastic about using the cameras and creating stories, which definitely shines through in this final project:


Overall, these students took on a very tough subject and were able to express some very nuanced ideas. I am proud of their work and I know that this discussion will continue as they grow in their education and lives. Interested in seeing more? Check out the hashtag #TMSFreedomIs on Instagram.

Sultan Bazaar School Final Videos

Twenty-four hours and several Bollywood films after leaving Hyderabad, Ilana and I landed safely at JFK airport in New York City today. We still have lots to write about our final weeks in India, though, so you’ll keep hearing from us here. One important thing we have to share are our students’ wonderful final projects! The first batch comes from our pilot program at Sultan Bazaar Government Girls High School, in collaboration with the American India Foundation.

Our class at Sultan Bazaar involved small groups of teachers and students working together to learn digital technology skills and create multimedia projects that could enhance their learning/teaching experiences in regular curriculum subjects. As you will see in the videos below, this format proved to be an effective and accessible way to introduce such digital tools to participants unfamiliar with cameras or computers.

Ilana and I are excited to have been part of developing this model in TMS’s work and truly looking forward to see how TMS builds on our work in the next year. For now, enjoy this first series of curriculum-focused projects created by TMS students!

Cotton Project from The Modern Story on Vimeo.


Natural Resources Project from The Modern Story on Vimeo.


Triangle Project from The Modern Story on Vimeo.

The Modern Story Ventures South!

Happy New Year from Tamil Nadu! While Ilana headed north over the holidays I traveled west to Mumbai and then south to visit an another education organization, Communities Rising. CR runs after-school programs in villages of Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district. They work especially with Dalit children, and tonight I had the great opportunity to hear a presentation by a Dalit priest and lobbyist. I listened eagerly and asked many questions, as caste discrimination is an issue that hasn’t come up easily in conversations in Andhra Pradesh. I’ve wanted to learn more about the topic but wasn’t sure how to approach it, so that is party of why I came to visit CR.

While I’m here I’ve also been holding video workshops with some of CR’s great college students who volunteer in the after-school program. One of those students, Agni, has already completed editing a project in which he talks about CR’s work and his experiences with the organization. Check it out!

Fire at Communities Rising from The Modern Story on Vimeo.

The Wave

Tuesday, February 26
After two intense days of computer focused lesson plans, the boys in Nalgonda are off and running with the Final Cut video-editing software they’re using for their “A day in the life of” projects. Most of our classes begin the same way: Our 12 push through the dense ring of boys that has circled us in the computer classroom. Numerous PC’s are turned on, and traditional and disco-esque house music plays through the speakers of a couple computers. Everyone, including our 12, huddle around the computers, clicking, making elaborate posters with their names in artistic fonts using powerpoint, and playing around with the half-dozen songs they have uploaded to the computer and can now access through Windows Media Player. This all happens in the first 5 to 15 minutes before class starts. The boys pass off control of the mouse like passing a bag of M&M’s, everyone gets a few clicks, completes a few tasks, and then the mouse is passed… or grabbed. Personal space around the computer is not the issue; they are all just trying to get a peak at the screen, at the programs, at the technology.

The rush in and absorb as much of the computer as they can before being kicked out so our class can start. At the end of our class, around 4:30pm, the same scenario plays out if there is not a high-profile cricket match to watch in the courtyard. But, still, even then there is a throng of boys rushing in to switch on the computers and watch what our class has created during the time they’ve been IN THE COMPUTER CLASSROOM! I mean, really, the place is like a posh club scene with lines out of the room; several bouncers guard the door and regularly toss unruly individuals out, while the “cool few” march in and get access to the computers that are quickly turned on. The boys come to observe, ask questions about “everything technology” that they see in the classroom and in our bags, and practice their English.

IMG_3164 (1)

A week ago, I had a discussion about computer memory with a group of class 10 boys who always eagerly approach me when our class is finished. They saw Piya hand me her pocket flash drive (aka “stick” flash memory drive – USB) and asked what it was. They told me that they were interested in computers and a couple wanted to be software/hardware engineers. I handed the flash drive to them and was floored at how attentive they were while I talked about nano technology and the future of flash memory drives in computers. The boys wanted to see more technology, to use it more often. They wanted to absorb more, to learn, to participate in the larger discussion that could just be about computers, or could be about global jobs, opportunities inside and outside of their country.

The computer room is open to students during their “computer class” period. Unfortunately, the oldest students in the school – class 10 – who are the most fluent in English and are consistently the first to greet us when we arrive, are not allowed to use the computers. Their computer education stops after class 9, as class 10 spends the entire year studying for their final Class 10 Exam, which, depending on the score a student earns, basically decides if and where the student has a chance applying to college… the opportunity to move forward in their education.

I started this post by saying that the boys in our class are off and running with the Final Cut software, and I mean it. As I half-expected, much of my instruction on the first day fell on deaf ears – the program engulfed their senses, and the group of six huddled around the computer looked at me like a smudge on the wall, I was there on the wall and that was about it. Toward the end of class, my voice was getting through, but, really, most of the learning was done through trial and error with this particular group. I watched as they found the different tools on the screens, differentiated between single and double-clicking for certain commands, and noted the various ways that video clips could be placed on the storyboard, cut, and overlapped. The boys were hands-on, using a tool and figuring out just how it acted and what it could do. The boys were editing.

The second day using the Final Cut software was quite inspiring. The boys got right down to the business of editing, remembering where and how to make the cuts, and listening to each other as they talked about everyone’s opinion of each clip. There was a genuine Socratic discussion happening around the computer – talking, deciding, and creating, together.
The group’s video of “A day in the life of” is now finished, and they will soon shift to their next and final project that will combine all of the photo, video, and writing exercises they have completed over the past 5 weeks. We’ll be posting a description/ outline soon…
In the short time before and after our class, the boys’ curiosity floods the computer classroom. Students rush in like a heavy set and wash over the computers and the room. Eagerness around learning the computer extends beyond the 12 in the class and into the minds of the boys who continuously make the most of their 5-15 minutes of “computer curiosity”…in the hot club…the computer classroom.

Scavenger Hunt Week!

“Scavenger Hunt” week!  Kind of like Animal Planet’s “Shark Week”… but this time it’s C.Ramchand girls strapped with cameras, not sharks with cameras strapped to them.  This past Monday and Tuesday we had the girls practice their photo and video skills in a couple scavenger hunt activities.

Monday’s hunt focused on basic photography skills – zoom, straight & steady, angles, lighting, etc.  The girls divided into three groups of four and set out roaming the campus in search of the items on the list.  Despite a few communication hurdles, all of the groups finished just in time for the 3 O’clock bell.  Interestingly, number 25 (“5 different examples of trash”) had everyone stumped, thinking that they needed to take photos of trashcans, not plain “garbage” – what I have come to call the “carpet of the streets.”  On a larger scale, it’s obvious that my liberal northeast, environmental, hippie summer camp upbringing and employment roots tangle with what I see as a total lack of awareness of the connection between environment and health – a larger environmental observation that I’ll get to post on the blog eventually.  Bottom line, I should have been more specific.

Similarly, on Tuesday the girls divided into two groups of six and set about around the campus with video cameras.  This was their first introduction to using the video camera for both sound and image recording; previously, we had them record only their voice.  We introduced Adobe’s “3 S’s” – Straight, Steady, & Smooth.  Everyone in the class went through the various motions of panoramas, slow and steady zooms, and walking with the camera, all the while keeping the lens pointed forward and hands steady.  Having a steady picture, even with a tripod, is a lot of work and can drive someone away from using a camera when obsessed over.  We tried to show the different methods and explain that no one can become a professional Videographer on the first day.  Practice, and assigning activities where the students are allowed to make mistakes, is needed.

It was terrific to see the students’ different examples of each task on the lists, each with a different perspective, and different angle.  We sensed that it was a big leap of faith to give out the cameras with such ease, but our firm trust in the students was not an inexperienced move, rather a confident nod to the students that we believe they have the skills, intelligent curiosity, and responsibility to explore on their own.  Something that I have noted as being different in the structure of education in comparison to my own, is a lack of open-ended answers/ various methods of learning or perspectives/ a whole list of thoughts circling the idea of self-directed learning, which, I believe, needs a certain support system to grow.  In short, there seems to be one answer, one test.  In a creative class, such as ours, it’s difficult to play to that model, while trying to introduce something totally contrary.  In the end, the students showed us just how ready, willing, and able they were to create and answer on their own the questions and tasks we challenged them with.

That being said, I do not want to replace the standardized test, but I would like to poke a few holes in the fabric to allow a few more opportunities and a few more avenues of success to be seen.  So, when we hand out a list of seemingly unspecific tasks, most of the explaining focuses on giving the students the thumbs-up to come up with their own answers, their own methods, their own ways.   Looking at my own education and learning style – past, future, and present – I would have had a difficult time succeeding and going to, never mind, graduating from college in the system of education here.  Am I seeing myself in some of the students I watch struggle (academic & self) with the rote style of learning?  That’s a bit cliché, so I would like to say I’m trying to put myself in their shoes instead of expecting that they fit into mine and can immediately begin running in them.