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.

Update From the TMS Classroom

As I approach the two week anniversary of my arrival here it’s both a relief and slightly daunting that I still have over five months in the country. However, as we begin work and settle into a routine it feels more comfortable to think about the length of my stay here. In particular when I think about our work in the classroom, I am glad to have as much time with the girls as possible for a couple reasons. First, their eagerness to learn and to please their instructors blows me away. They are all so wonderfully innocent and childlike at thirteen it is a little upsetting to compare them to children of their same age in the states. Even when I think about myself at their age, I can’t believe how impatient I was to grow up, when they seem so angelically childlike and happy. Secondly, I am glad to have as much time in the classroom as possible because the girls seem to really need help with their English. This is not a surprise to me, and neither is the wide disparity in skill level — these are both issues teachers must face in every country. I am very interested to find out how these two factors will play out over the course of five months — how the girl’s eagerness and excitement about the class will translate into their progress with English. My hope is that they can make great progress with their positive attitudes and I am trying to do everything I can to encourage and push them forward.

Stella riding the bus for our first day of teaching at Railway.

We bought 60 notebooks for all of the girls at Railway and are using the idea of journaling and sending personal messages back and forth as an investment strategy to get students writing in English everyday. I spent a large chunk of time last night reading all 30 of my student’s journals and writing them long paragraphs in response. Some of these paragraphs included tailored grammar lessons about verb agreement and tense, some asked questions to prod them to write more, some softly chided them for copying from other students, and all encouraged them to keep writing and pushing themselves in class. All students claimed to be very excited to begin the TMS program and seemed struck in only the first day of class by the creative, open, and personal structure of the class which is so different from the lecture style and rote memorization methods of teaching and learning that are so common here.

The class oath our students created on the first day.

Their assignment on the second day was to bring in an object that was precious to them, to begin a classroom trend of introspection, sharing the personal, and writing our stories. Most girls took the assignment very seriously and came to class proud to show off their favorite belongings. I was especially impressed that nearly all the girls remembered even after our class was pushed back a day due to a bandh — a protest that shuts down the city, usually due to the Telangana situation which is a separatist movement for Hyderabad to become its own state. Despite the delay, they came equipped with photo albums, bangles, jewelry, little bags, sweaters, and one girl even brought two stuffed dolls practically half her size! In class writing is a bit of a challenge for them, so I plan to create many opportunities for them to practice and develop their skills over the coming months. Neha, my co-teacher, is also on board and can’t wait to start giving them photograph prompts to write stories about — an assignment Kara and Ilana did last year that she clearly loved. Neha’s dedication to TMS and love of the children and the previous fellows is touching. When we brought in our own precious objects to share she came in wearing a rainbow beaded bracelet that was given to her from her best-friend, Kara, last year before she left.

Three of the girls showing off their precious objects.

Giving this assignment I was also struck by the simplicity and innocence (a recurring theme at Railway and certainly a juxtaposition when you consider it alongside my previous teaching experience) of their precious objects. Many students wrote about pens or umbrellas or cheap plastic knick-knacks. These objects were precious because of the people who thought to give them as gifts, not for their monetary value. I cannot imagine students in the US writing with heartfelt sincerity about the importance of items besides jewelry, electronics and other luxuries. Just another one of the many eye openers of living and teaching in India.

Teaching Voice-over at Railway: Our Precious Objects from The Modern Story on Vimeo.

The Effects of AIF and TMS at Work

Today we went to visit the MG school, after a visit to Sultan Bazaar yesterday. Both schools are partnered with The Modern Story through AIF and the organization’s initiative to donate computer resources to government schools. I was touched by the enthusiasm of the teachers and administration at both schools. When we sat down with the headmistress of Sultan Bazaar to discuss the days we will be coming to teach the class, we agreed to come on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The next question she asked us was, “Can you start now? Today is Tuesday.”

The teachers at both schools seemed eager to participate and learn more about the digital skills taught in the TMS curriculum. As a teacher myself, I understand where they are coming from. I am also eager to practice and develop my skills working with and teaching photography and film-making over the next six months. Upon my return, I know I will incorporate my new expertise in the classroom in a meaningful way for my students.

At MG we sat down in the computer lab on the customary plastic chairs with three teachers and the AIF coordinator. We went through the general and slightly awkward pleasantries of a first meeting, and then, presumably to fill time, the AIF coordinator began to show us a Power Point presentation the Biology teacher had created about different organisms and systems of nourishment. We all huddled around the computer and watched as the pictures, animations, and text scrolled across the screen. I was catapulted back to my high school and early college experience where I recall first being presented with information through Power Point. I remember thinking how refreshing and exciting it was to learn information through a new method of teaching. I was also touched by the glowing sense of pride the teacher took in her work as we “ooooh-ed” and “aaah-ed” over her animations and transitions. She immediately opened up and began showing us the YouTube videos she had downloaded to bring the natural world around us to life for her students.

It felt like a poignant moment, seeing the promise and importance of initiatives such as TMS to bring technology to these classrooms. In the US, I realize how much I took these basic resources for granted, when I sat next to these teachers who were overjoyed to explore the potential of new teaching methods. It was just the meeting I needed to open my eyes to the significance of the work we will begin tomorrow at Railway.

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.