News from the Field: Students from Peoria Explore Local History and Film Making for Black History Month

Peoria Public Schools District 150 21st CCLC has leveraged community partnerships to help students learn about local history, explore career options, and build academic skills through activities with real-world connections. Last winter, this collaboration enabled seventh- and eighth-grade students at Glen Oak Community Learning Center to research and produce a series of Black History Month public service announcements (PSAs) that showcased prominent African American members of the Peoria community.

Artists ReEnvisioning Tomorrow (ART Inc.) of Peoria, a nonprofit organization that provides out-of-school arts programming and is one of the 21st CCLC’s community partners, led the project, which consisted of two parts: (1) researching and writing about the community members who would be featured and (2) rehearsing and filming PSAs. Nikki Romain, executive director of ART Inc., says that her organization aims to help students develop skills that will help them be successful in school and life, but her team is careful to provide an out-of-school time learning experience that is different from the school day. “You can go into the 21st CCLC program and learn while you’re having fun,” says Romain. “The day doesn’t look like the school day. It’s more project-based learning.”

The collaboration relied on support from other community members, including Garry Moore, a retired Peoria news anchor, freelance videographers, and WTVP, Peoria’s local PBS station. Moore had written a play about African American history in Peoria, which provided a starting point for the project. Students then selected a historical figure to research, working closely with Moore to draft and revise monologues for their PSAs. As the students finished their manuscripts, they began preparing to film their presentations by memorizing their lines and rehearsing. The videographers who were there to film the PSAs worked with students on how to stand in front of the camera and deliver their lines.

Romain says that students sometimes found the research and writing challenging, but knowing that they would need to be ready to film their monologues helped them stay motivated, adding that by the day of the filming, they were “beyond excited.” On the day that they recorded their PSAs, students first toured WTVP, learning about the different departments and jobs that make a television station run. After the tour was complete, students filmed their PSAs individually or in small groups. WTVP then aired the PSAs during Black History Month.

Staff from the 21st CCLC and ART Inc. who led the project say that the afterschool environment gave students a chance to apply what they learned in new settings, thus adding more meaning to the project. “The whole concept of 21st CCLCs is for students to find a unique way to learn valuable skills,” says Allison Walsh, a freelance videographer who helped teach the project. “Giving a speech in class is not always that exciting. But being on camera and getting to film a project on television is much more rewarding for students. It’s that extra level of engagement.”

In addition to having an opportunity to film their PSAs, students were also able to learn about career opportunities and paths in their community. “Students don’t always have the opportunity to take television and film classes in middle school,” says Walsh, noting that touring the station showed how they were applying the things they learned in social studies and English class, as well as showing some of the technical skills needed to produce a television show.

The project also helped students learn about and develop greater pride in their community. Walsh notes that many of the students did not know about these important African American community members until they began researching them for the project. “The project created a new level of pride in Peoria,” she says. “They got to learn about their community’s history and the city’s roots.”

The ART Inc. and Peoria 21st CCLC team sees arts enrichment activities as an opportunity to prepare for success in life. “Even if the arts are not the path [a student] wants to take, they are [learning] important skills,” says Romain. “Students build confidence in these areas, and they are able to use skills like writing and public speaking in a variety of fields.”