Content FAQ

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  1. What Is Media Literacy?
  2. How do the Student Town Meetings (STMs) differ from regular field trips?
  3. What is the preparation process for the STMs?
  4. How has the project affected the kids, teachers and / or schools that have participated?
  5. For what courses or subjects is this project best suited?
  6. Why do some schools do more than one STM in a school year?
  7. How can I hear a Student Town Meeting if I miss its air date?
  8. Who picks the issues discussed on the Student Town Meetings?
  9. Are there any “rules” for implementing the project in the classroom?
  10. How did you learn to work with the teachers and students in the schools? What training did you need to do this job?
  11. Why does each STM involve kids from only one school district?
  12. How do schools get involved in the project?
  13. Can suburban schools get involved in the project?
  14. How much does it cost for a school to become part of this project?
  15. What do the school districts have to provide to participate in this project?
  16. I’m a parent – how can I get my kid’s school / class involved?
  17. I think this project does great things for kids and schools, and I’d like to support it financially. How can I make a contribution to ensure that this project continues?

Q. What Is Media Literacy?

Source: Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA)

The Short Version: Media literacy empowers people to be both critical thinkers and creative producers of an increasingly wide range of messages using image, language, and sound. It is the skillful application of literacy skills to media and technology messages. As communication technologies transform society, they impact our understanding of ourselves, our communities, and our diverse cultures, making media literacy an essential life skill for the 21st century.

A Broader Definition: Within North America, media literacy is seen to consist of a series of communication competencies, including the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE and COMMUNICATE information in a variety of forms including print and non-print messages. Interdisciplinary by nature, media literacy represents a necessary, inevitable and realistic response to the complex, ever-changing electronic environment and communication cornucopia that surrounds us.

To become a successful student, responsible citizen, productive worker, or competent and conscientious consumer, individuals need to develop expertise with the increasingly sophisticated information and entertainment media that address us on a multi-sensory level, affecting the way we think, feel and behave.

Today's information and entertainment technologies communicate to us through a powerful combination of words, images and sounds. As such we need to develop a wider set of literacy skills helping us to both comprehend the messages we receive, and to effectively utilize these tools to design and distribute our own messages. Being literate in a media age requires critical thinking skills which empower us as we make decisions, whether in the classroom, the living room, the workplace, the board room or the voting booth.

Finally, while media literacy does raise critical questions about the impact of media and technology, it is not an anti-media movement. Rather, it represents a coalition of concerned individuals and organizations, including educators, faith-based groups, health care-providers, and citizen and consumer groups, who seek a more enlightened way of understanding our media environment. Over the years, many definitions and visions of media literacy have been created to reflect different points of view, different approaches and goals, and different audiences.

For more information, please see AMLA's website.

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Q. How do the Student Town Meetings differ from regular field trips?

  • The preparation process and planning with the teachers are extensive.
  • The project includes embedded professional development for the teachers, and my working directly in the classroom with the students for 4-5 days over approximately 20 instructional days. Because the project creates a partnership between WAMC and the school districts, the expectation is that more than one STM will be conducted.
  • The students receive grades for various components of the preparation process.
  • After the taping of the STM, students and teachers use the experience in various ways, including making presentations to the Board of Education, and writing letters to the editor of local newspapers.

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Q. What is the preparation process for the STMs?

The classroom teacher and I determine a taping date for the STM, and, working backwards, dates for the rehearsal, reading of the position papers, discussion and research period, and my first visits to the school.

During my first classroom visit, I work with the students to select the issue and focus for their research and discussion. Using the students’ questions, I develop a Position Outline which frames the issue in its social, political or economic context, and compile initial materials using electronic databases. The teacher and students build on this material as they continue to research and discuss various aspects and legal/historic background of the selected issue in class. Each student writes an individual position paper; on my next visit, students read their papers aloud for comment and critique. Students volunteer to be on the STM panel during this part of the process. All student panelists take part in a rehearsal conducted at the school prior to the actual taping date. The entire process takes about four weeks, or approximately 20 instructional days of 40 minute periods. For a more detailed explanation, visit PROGRAM DESCRIPTION - "How It Works in the Classroom".

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Q. How has the project affected the kids, teachers and/or schools that have participated?

Each step of the process is designed to broaden student understanding of the selected issues from various perspectives, encourage informed discussion, build student confidence in public expression of opinions, and deepen content knowledge. Students quickly recognize in a meaningful way the necessity of supporting statements with data from Supreme Court decisions, federal and state legislation, statistics, and other pertinent documentation in their statements, questions, and writing. In this context, active listening, formulating questions, and taking and retaining accurate notes acquire significance if they are to "think on their feet".

In their evaluations and written comments about the project, students cite various benefits from their participation in the project. They learn to discuss and disagree with civility, respect and understanding. They come to understand that there are more than two sides to issues, and indeed that there may not be clear solutions to every problem. They see that adults care about what young people think and say, and actually engage in dialogue beyond their peer group. They’ve written letters to the editors of local newspapers, made presentations to their respective boards of education about their involvement in the program, and discussed issues with family and neighbors, sometimes finding them misinformed or lacking sufficient understanding to vote, as in the case of the budget amendment. These results transcend course content and go to the very core of social studies education – the creation of true, informed participants in the representative democratic process.

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Q. For what courses or subjects is this project best suited?

Social Studies - government; economics; sociology; public policy; psychology

English – media & communication

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Q. Why do some schools do more than one STM in a school year?

There are a few reasons for this.

  • The project fits very well with several one-semester courses offered in NYS high schools, such as Participation in Government (PIG), economics, psychology, and media or communication. Teachers generally teach these courses twice a year (fall and spring) and incorporate the project into their curricula. Consequently, a STM is conducted with each group of students, resulting in one program each semester.
  • Several teachers within the same school (usually in a large district) may wish to involve their students in the project, but for a variety of reasons are either not interested in or unable to combine their classes with those of another teacher. In this instance, two or more STMs are conducted - involving different courses, grade levels, or ability levels - from the same school.
  • Sometimes a teacher with several sections of the same course wants to do a “pilot” STMwith one section to prepare or motivate other sections. After completing the first STM, a second STM may be conducted with other sections.

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Q. How can I hear a Student Town Meeting if I miss its air date?

Audio of all produced STMs is available online – click “Listen Now” on the navigation bar. You will need Real Audio or Windows Media on your computer to hear the shows. See “How to Listen” for further instructions.

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Q. Who picks the issues discussed on the Student Town Meetings?

Generally, the students identify several topics which they think they would like to learn more about. They develop questions to help determine what they want to learn about the various topics, discuss them briefly, perhaps even read a related article or two. I work with them to help weed out topics or issues already selected by other schools to avoid duplication, and reach consensus on a focused question (issue) for their research, class discussion, writing and STM.

In some cases, the specific issue or question determined by the students is based on a curricular theme suggested by the classroom teacher.

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Q. Are there any "rules" for implementing the project in the classroom?

Really only two:

  1. The topic and ultimate issue selected for discussion must be aligned with the curricular content of the participating high school course. For instance, if the course is economics, the topic and focused issue must be directly related to financial or economic concerns.
  2. No student in the participating classes can opt out of any part of the process itself. This means everyone does the research, takes part in the class discussions, develops a written position statement, and reads that statement aloud in class. The product – the actual taping of the STM – involves choice: students volunteer to be on the panel, or to be part of the audience at the taping.

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Q. How did you learn to work with the teachers and students in the schools? What training did you need to do this job?

I am certified as a teacher and district administrator in New York State, and have extensive experience teaching social studies, English, reading, and writing at the secondary and college levels. I also have written for publication various instructional guides, materials and activities based on research, documents, newspapers, and government texts.

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Q. Why does each STM involve kids from only one school district?

I have discussed the idea of involving two districts in the same program with the participating teachers. They are not in favor of this approach because of potential school/student comparison, competition and rivalry.

In addition, it is easier for the students to discuss the selected issue more freely with young people they know from their own communities.

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Q. How do schools get involved in the project?

A teacher directly contacts me, or I contact the teacher after receiving his/her name from another educator (teacher, principal, superintendent). It’s that simple. The classroom teacher is the most important person to the process, because he/she has to agree to the preparation process – an actual unit of instruction to be implemented in conjunction with WAMC staff in the classroom. Contact information can be found on this website under "Contact Us." Interested schools or teachers are invited to contact WAMC to involve their students in the project.

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Q. Can suburban schools get involved in the project?

Our current funding for this project is focused on urban and rural secondary public schools.

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Q. How much does it cost for a school to become part of this project?

WAMC has received project funding to serve urban and rural secondary public schools, and thus their participation in the project is free.

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Q. What do the school districts have to provide to participate in this project?

  • Planning time between teacher and WAMC staff.
  • E-mail communication capabilities between teacher and WAMC.
  • Direct contact of WAMC staff in classroom with students and teacher.
  • Transportation of the students to and from WAMC’s Linda Norris Auditorium if the taping is to be conducted in Albany.
  • Appropriate chaperone coverage for group attending taping.

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Q. I’m a parent – how can I get my kid’s school / class involved?

Let the classroom teacher know of your interest in this project, and have her/him contact me at WAMC (518-465-5233 ext. 135). I will be happy to meet with him/her and start the process.

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Q. I think this project does great things for kids and schools, and I’d like to support it financially. How can I make a contribution to ensure that this project continues?

Call Selma Kaplan at (518) 465-5233, ext. 155 or selma@wamc.org.

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