Using video production to teach teens skills to benefit them through their careers

Emil Blakely pauses for a selfie with the author. (Susan Richardson for NewsWorks)

Emil Blakely pauses for a selfie with the author. (Susan Richardson for NewsWorks)

The skills that make the biggest difference in our careers can be learned way before we take our first jobs. Helping teenagers find those qualities in themselves is one of the goals of the WHYY Producers Club.

Students work during the week in WHYY’s Flash Media Labs, which are stationed in middle and high schools across Philadelphia. Then on Friday afternoons, they come together at the WHYY studios to create video segments for PSTV, the school district’s public educational channel, using content they produced in the labs combined with footage from other sources.

I’m especially interested in how projects like this help teens develop workplace skills for later in life, so I checked in on a recent Friday with one of the production maestros, Emil Blakely.

When Blakely and several friends from the program arrived, they started their day’s work with a ritual familiar to parents of teenagers everywhere: They raided the cooler of snacks that program staff keep stashed away for them.

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Ah, important workplace skill No. 1.

The current group, whose work will be screened Tuesday, June 7, 5-7 p.m. at WHYY, is shaping its production around three topics: healthy cooking across different cultures, representation of race and culture, and immigration.

Blakely and I stepped aside for a couple of quick questions before he headed into final production work on the current piece.

His favorite thing about the video-production program? “Making documentaries and videos on topics that are really good, going in-depth,” said Blakely, a junior at Palumbo High School in South Philly. “And learning to use cameras as we go, then edit and produce.”

So he likes dealing hands-on with the equipment? He laughed. “The best session this year was the one when I was behind the switchboard, working all the pieces: the sound levels, cameras, color.”

That sense of power touched on my next question. I asked what had surprised him from the semester’s project, and he didn’t need to think long. “If I need to, I can be a leader,” he said. “Producing is harder than I thought. It takes a lot to get a video just right.”

That ability to make sure it gets done right is what he saw at the heart of his interest in leadership. When I asked my next question — what did he see in himself now that he hadn’t seen before he was involved in the program — Emil stayed with the subject of leadership.

“I usually want to be in the background and just help out,” he said. “But now, I see I can enjoy being in charge. You get more control over what should be happening. And more responsibility. Videos have deadlines. They have to be shot and edited before that deadline. I got out of my comfort zone.”

That sounds like workplace skills adaptable for any field, but I was curious: Did his experience in media make him think about sticking with it as a career?

“Absolutely,” he said. “I do want to go into production. It’s cool to see, ‘Wow, I made this — and it looks really good!'”

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