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Ribbon HUNDRED 2020
Live and on-demand broadcast of original writing, music, roundtable discussions, and journalism from area teens.

Youth Express

location_on Pittsburgh, United States
When youth realize that their voice matters, they realize that they matter. Since 2013, Youth Express has used tools of radio to create and distribute commentaries, discussions, documentaries, and other youth-generated content through a 24/7 radio station available on standard radio apps for smartphones and connected cars, a custom mobile app, social media, and on the web at youthexpress.org.
Alexandra Sorce, 17, Radio Documentary Producer
I built a sense of awareness and an urge to learn more about the voices in my community. Youth Express strengthened my group work skills, ability to talk with strangers, and media making skills.

Alexandra Sorce, 17, Radio Documentary Producer

Interested?
about the innovation

How can we modernize the tradition of radio storytelling to amplify youth voices and reach adult audiences who need to hear these voices the most?

Youth are talked about, studied, marketed to, worried over, and blamed for almost everything. They are usually asked for their thoughts only in times of crisis or when there is money to be made from them. Youth Express demonstrates that youth voice matters all of the time. 

Youth Express is not simply about creating radio targeted to youth; rather, it focuses on disseminating the voices of youth to new audiences (including adults) while promoting intellectual, creative and professional growth, all in a way that stresses learning -- for media makers and listeners

Youth Express operates from independent studios in an urban setting on Pittsburgh's Northside and brings together students from different neighborhoods, backgrounds, and school districts as they interact and learn from one another.

Why radio in the age of ubiquitous digital cameras and YouTube? Simply stated, radio is a tremendous equalizer; all can participate regardless of physical capabilities or appearance. Radio stresses the use of fundamental language and communications skills. With the trappings of television lighting, set design, and graphic enhancement removed, radio allows makers – and listeners – the opportunity to use imagination in a provocative way that not only entertains, but also engages and educates.  Radio also provides a degree of privacy to the creator that often is impossible with other media. It is the perfect balance -- and also is a cost-effective medium for information gathering, preparation, and dissemination. 

Youth Express is the result of a bold initiative to create a 24/7 Internet radio service that delivers essays, poems, theater, music and other original works created by area youth. Making youth expression available and prominent achieves multiple goals: 

  • Participating youth sharpen skills (e.g., interviewing, writing, speaking, persuasiveness, editing, teamwork, deadline compliance) that support academic standards, 21st century skills and college/workforce readiness. 
     
  • Providing a distribution method and audience for student work helps all students aspire to share thoughts and ideas, write clearly and become more engaged with their community. 
     
  • Showcasing youth voice helps (1) eliminate preconceived notions about neighborhoods, ethnic or racial background, and other factors, (2) improve overall understanding and empathy for people whose situations are different than their own, and (3) inform other generations about youth-centric issues. 
     
  • Use of radio is economical, ensures privacy, simplifies acquisition/delivery, and embraces the growing market for content for smartphones, podcasts and Internet-equipped car radios.

While some Youth Express students have gone on to journalism or broadcasting careers, Youth Express is not a career training program. Rather, it is a platform that recognizes that all youth have an authentic voice that warrants dissemination. 

Finally, in a time when civil dialogue and cultural understanding may be at an all-time low, Youth Express builds connections and empathy. Our platform welcomes and blends audio created by  students from urban, rural and suburban schools. We also host meetups and special programs to encourage cross-school collaboration. Students and listeners alike have told us that they have experienced increased empathy and understanding when they hear authentic audio from real youth, often hearing someone from a different neighborhood or background for the first time. Educators have used specific Youth Express audio for professional development.

Innovation Overview
ALL
Target Group
18 000
Children/Users
1
Country
2013
Established
Not-for-profit
Organisation
1 330
Views
Media

See this innovation in action

Celebrating the Class of 2020
Youth Express, in partnership with Remake Learning, The Grable Foundation, and WQED Media, is celebrating the graduating class of 2020. Graduation is typically marked with commencement ceremonies and other events to provide closure to students finishing high school. The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the ways that graduates can be acknowledged. So, using an interactive map, students, teachers, parents, and other supporters can pin a school or town and create a message, audio, video or text, celebrating the work of these graduating seniors.
Youth Express Listens
While COVID-19 has limited many of our interactions with others, we still wanted to give youth an outlet to express their concerns and share how their lives have changed. Youth Express has implemented virtual recording booths to allow this form of expression to continue. Using a microphone built into their desktop, laptop, or smartphone, youth can record and submit reflections on the pandemic, #BlackLivesMatter movement, and other relevant topics anywhere with an internet connection.Once these recordings are processed, they are featured on a public SoundCloud playlist.
Scalability, Sharing and Professional Development
We enjoy sharing our ideas and learning from others. Based on the professional development and consulting we've provided to schools and community centers, we have learned that the key barriers to success are usually not access to equipment or funding, but instead a need for (i) strong, well-honed programs and projects that provide youth with enough structure to be successful while still allowing creativity and (ii) training for adults in equipment use as well as principals for creating a trusted space in which youth will feel comfortable expressing themselves authentically.With respect to programs, we have developed dozens of tested and documented processes to support projects we have implemented and refined repeatedly. While our methods include details and suggestions, they also allow room for ample flexibility since it is essential that the methods used reflect the culture of the youth, neighborhood, school/community center, and region of those involved. Programs we have offered and tested repeatedly include youth creation of public service announcements, person-on-the street interviews, commentaries, documentaries (including interviews with experts), roundtable discussions, live talk shows, personal narratives (including hundreds of well-honed prompts) and oral history collection. With respect to training, SLB has provided classroom-style and informal training to hundreds of educators, librarians, and other adults with an emphasis on gaining comfort with the equipment, project ideas, and best practices.While the practices and methods described above are important for scalability, we also believe its imperative to use systems that are open-source, world-deployable, and low-cost solutions wherever possible. For example:While we often teach students using editing software they will see in industry (e.g., Adobe Audition), we also provide recommendations for freeware such as Audacity, Reaper,  and Goldwave, all available at no cost.  While U.S.-based radio content solutions are plentiful, we favor systems that are designed for use throughout the world. Software we use or recommend for others include products from Spacial Audio (South Africa, U.S.), RadioJar (Greece) and Airtime (Czech Republic), all best-in-class, available in virtually all languages, and used in hundreds of countries. 
Intentional growth and scale...
Since the launch of Youth Express, the demand for equipment and services has increased dramatically. In 2017 and 2018, our staff visited twelve peer facilities across the United States to exchange information and research best practices. Along with research on additional facilities in the U.S. and throughout the world and -- most importantly -- input from area youth, SLB will complete a major studio expansion in October 2019. This expansion will include two new studios, a 24-seat media-making classroom, eight high-powered editing workstations, and 75-seat performance/audience space for spoken word and youth-created music. 
Walk-up satellite studio...
While we offer hundreds of staff-led Youth Express studio and field workshops annually, we also wanted to create a walk-up experience that teens could access and operate independently. In April 2019, we launched our first Youth Express Satellite Studio. The studio makes use of a custom-made soundproof booth made by Framery (Tampere, Finland) fitting up to six teens along with an SLB-configured digital mixer, sampling device and audio recorder made by Rode (Sydney, Australia) as well as headphones, microphones, Bluetooth connections and cables. While guidesheets and ideas are provided, the studios is designed for self-exploration. An interface is provided that allows users to email their audio to Youth Express for airplay if desired.  
Review: Amplifying youth voices
"SLB unites the community by giving a variety of people the chance to share their voices and their skills with others via radio, and by being a fun place that people can experience together safely."-R.J., community member
Review: Programs that cross boundaries
"My teen daughter connected with students that she'd never have met in our conservative suburban area. SLB programming helps shrink our world and gives a comfortable, safe place for kids to explore exciting aspects of their lives and showcase their abilities."-Susan, parent of youth participant
Streaming 24/7
Youth Express content is distributed via Internet radio every hour of every day.Listen to the 24/7 stream
Youth radio documentary producer, Alexandra Sorce
"I was able to experience just how cool radio is... I built a sense of awareness, and an urge to learn more about of the voices in Pittsburgh in the process of researching for each radio piece. My experiences at SLB have also indirectly better prepared me for college by strengthening my group work skills, ability to talk with strangers, and general media editing skills."
Youth Express App
A part of amplifying youth voice is to make youth-led discussions and original content easy to access with a mobile device. The Youth Express App opens up the Youth Express on-demand library and 24/7 live stream to iOS, Android, Kindle, and Windows users.Download for: iOS, Android, Kindle, or Windows
Youth Express Podcast
Original writing, reflections, music, radio theater, journalism, and more from Pittsburgh-area youth are featured in a weekly podcast distributed to all major podcast platforms. Listen and subscribe to the Youth Express Podcast
Youth Documentary: Money Management Matters
Heinz Youth Philanthropy interns Nichole Vreen, Dejah Clark, and Micah Arnold documenting financial literacy in their schools and communities.Listen to Money Management Matters

Milestones

Achievements & Awards

June 2020
Creation of Interactive Map Celebrating the Class of 2020
March 2020
Launched Virtual Recording Booths During COVID-19 Pandemic
July 2019
Summer Dreamers Academy Service Award
February 2019
Innovation added to the HundrED
May 2017
Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time Partner of the Year
March 2017
Pittsburgh Service Summit Award for Child Advocacy
April 2015
Public Radio Exchange (PRX) Best Youth-Created Radio Awards
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Steps

Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

01
Establish adult and youth champions to start the program
A program like Youth Express requires champions -- people who believe in the power of youth voice to inform, educate and transform.
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02
Create a trusted space for sharing and recording
While it's exciting to start with microphones, mixers, streaming methods and project ideas, success requires first establishing an environment that ensures trust, mutual respect, boundaries, and a sense of belonging as well as one in which good quality recordings are possible.
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03
Establish a cohort of students and meet regularly
Starting with an initial cohort -- and simple recordings -- will help build trust, confidence, a sense of belonging, and creativity.
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04
Establish a routine for recording, publishing, listening
Regular listening and recording sessions that build on each prior week help students build rapport, confidence and ideas.
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05
Add special projects as teens gain experience
Now it's time to put skills, knowledge and passion to use as we create for an audience beyond peers.
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06
Broaden distribution and participation
Distribute final work products to an audience beyond student peers.
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