Youth Voice Summit on November 8!

Celebrate youth voice at the Media Empowerment Student Summit on Saturday November 8, 2014.

Register here!

What is it?

A day long event to celebrate, learn new skills and meet with youth, artists, and experts.  Teens can connect with youth from Greater Pittsburgh to celebrate youth voice and learn about youth action, specifically to:

1) make/create media/art, 2) create community 3) participate in youth justice and rights conversations


Who should come?

Teens – Artists – Media Artists – Youth Organizers – Student Councils – Youth adult allies – Teacher, parents, and more


Saturday November 8, 2014  9a – 6p, Registration and breakfast start at 8a

Carnegie Mellon University in Oakland – Newell-Simon Hall Atrium, 3rd Floor: link to Google Maps

Over 10 workshops on media production, art, or information on student rights!

Resource fair at lunch featuring information on college, employment, health services, and more!


Most 61/71/54 buses stop by CMU. Stops on Forbes Ave near the Carnegie Museum or at Hamburg Hall.  Newell-Simon Hall is behind Hamburg Hall.

Parking is available on the lot at Forbes and Morewood, free on weekends.

Need transportation? We can help!  Email

Want to run a session?   Volunteer?  Table at the fair?  Email

Pre-register here!

Don't forget to spread the word and invite your friends. 
Who is running this thing?
The MESS is a collaborative vision of the team at Hear Me at the CREATE Lab, Michelle King, Tom Akiva (University of Pittsburgh), Sydney Olberg (Teens4Change), Heather Harr (Student Voices), students at ECS, students at univiersities, and more.  But its really for YOU.  Want to be involved in planning?  Think your voice or POV isn't represented?  Hear Me is the point of contact.

Why is this happening?
Why not?  Young people have a unique and crucial voice that needs to be heard, and have the potential to make a big impact. Our organizers believe that giving youth permission to ask questions and create can lead to important answers. The Southwestern PA region is ripe with youth creating media, partnering with adults to create change, and using their voices to create agency.

What are some of the sessions?
All sessions are 1 hour long.  eens, experts, and activists in SWPA are presenting on topics like "Real Talk on Bullying,"  "Race and Responsibility,"  "Filmmaking,"  "Audio storytelling," "Stereotypes and -ISMs," and sessions on radio, hip-hop, and writing are in the works. 

What's a resource fair?
When teens ask us things like, "How do I take the bus without getting lost?" or "How can I find a job?" adults don't always have the answers. This fair is designed to tap volunteer experts to give free, no-strings-attached tips on survival skills that young adults need. 

How much is this thing?
It's free! 

I live far away and don't know how to get there.  Can you help?
Probably!  Email with details!

MESS is supported in part by the Hive Fund for Connected Learning at The Sprout Fund.

Teens speak out on mental health

Hear Me 101 Intern aims to share her story with mental health practitioners

Hear Me 101 Intern (Su' 2014) Juanita Suber created a presentation to facilitate discussion around Mental Health supports for teens in high school, specifically depression. Her presentation uses a film, "Teens, Depression, & Peer Pressure," that she produced with a group of her peers at the McKeesport Technology Center at McKeesport High School, in McKeesport, PA, to begin to show teen depression from their point of view. Juanita's moving presentation walks through her own personal experience and asks for caregivers to consider effective ways of aiding students and de-stigmatizing teen depression in schools. 

View Juanita's presentation (opens in new window)

To request Juanita to present at your event, please contact

Hear Me is Hiring a Project Assistant

Hear Me is looking for a new team member! This is a great opportunity for the right person to work with students, promote youth voice in the region and work at the CREATE Lab.

View and apply for the position here.

Please share this posting with any qualified candidates.  The application period will end on August 29.


Hear Me and the CREATE Lab

More than a Number

An Open Essay by 16-year-old Denis McCormick

“People like to say we need to prepare students for real life, and what I counter that with is why don’t we make schools like real life itself-bring experiences outside of school into the school environment.”

This is a powerful quote from young education activist Nikhil Goyal (pictured above),who inspired me to further question standardized testing. As a student, I understand the importance of tests to track the progress of schools and individuals, but students shouldn’t be ranked based on test scores. The multiple-choice format of testing is a simplistic and inefficient way of assessment. It doesn’t show who the students are.

For example, students shouldn’t be labeled as “advanced,” “proficient” or “basic,” based on their answers to test questions. Coming from a low ranked school, I’ve seen students score poorly on these tests; meanwhile they have valuable real-life problem solving skills. I know that some of the things we learn are useful, but when will I be challenged in real life to fill in bubbles?

Schools put so much emphasis on the multiple choice section of standardized tests, but in the real world nothing will be given to us on a Scantron sheet with a packet full of multiple choice questions. As students, we struggle to find value in the state assessment system.

When I found out that our school district ranking was 437 out of 500, I felt that the Pittsburgh Business Times article was wrong and other students had mixed emotions. Some people agreed with the ranking, while others were mad, hurt and disappointed. We took action to make people realize that we are more than a number ranked by a system that fails to measure our real qualities. We all asked, ”Does this really define us? Are we really this bad?” We quickly shot down this thought and said, “We are more complex than what a test says about us. We are more than a number.” Then we decided as a collective group (The Future is Mine) to interview people on this topic and see how they felt about being labeled as “437”

Watch my documentary "437" here.

The state should provide more than just numbers about the students and the school district. The writers at the Pittsburgh Business Times were given the statistics and they were doing what they were supposed to do.  The numbers don’t show anything about the students’ character or their community.

It is difficult to measure creativity and social involvement, but we should be ranked and defined by more than our test scores. We never get a chance to tell the true stories about our community and the quality of the people who live there. We are all held back by the statistics and we need to break the shackles of the “standardization” of our community and tell the real stories.

Denis McCormick is a junior at Steel Valley High School

Hear Me 101 Screening May 22, 2014

About 70 students, educators, parents, administrators and community members filled Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Melwood Screening Room on May 22 for the 3rd annual Hear Me 101 Screening. 

The evening kicked off with light refreshments, food, and music from Professor ASAP of Tracksploitation.  The atmosphere was lively, as students were proud to share their work and others excited to watch.   The audience took their seats at 6:30 for documentaries from Clairton High School, McKeesport Technology Center, Steel Valley High School, the F.U.S.E. after school program, which includes students from Wilkinsburg High School and Imani Christian Academy and special guest, Jay Fyre from Philadelphia.

 Click here to watch the documentaries! (youtube link)

Topic Selection:

Students from McKeesport brainstormed and discussed a variety of topics before settling on three.  The focused on "Hip-hop in Education," "Video Gaming for Learning", and "Depression."  Students at Clairton selected two topics:  "Access to Technology Education," and "Girls Bullying."  The students gave a fresh perspective to bullying by focusing on bullying among middle schools girls.  The Steel Valley TFIM club wanted to explore ways that students are affected by "success" and "failure."  After wrestling with these ideas, they settled on tackling the school ratings systems by pointing out how it affects students, and adding more complex layers to the story of the 437-ranked school. 

A panel discussion followed the films and included panelists Emmai Alaquiva of Hip Hop on L.O.C.K., Amma Ababio, a student member of TeenBloc, and Patrick Dowd from Allies for Children.  Each panelist was given an opportunity to respond to the thought-provoking media, education and social questions posed by moderator, teacher and publisher Michelle King.  The discussion continued with participation and questions from the audience.

Alaquiva focused on building professional relationships, encouraging students to “make more deposits than withdrawals;” as he compared relationships to bank accounts.  He shared his story from homelessness to becoming and Emmy Award Winning producer, entrepreneur and mentor; and told students, “When you think outside the box, you change what’s in it.”

The youngest panelist, Amma Ababio reassured the students that their videos will make a difference and hailed the documentaries as part of a new civil rights movement.  She complemented the filmmakers on their dedication and critical thinking to address, and take steps to make positive change in their schools and communities.

(source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

As a former City-Councilman, Patrick Dowd was able to frame the conversation in a policy-driven manner.  He addressed how the PA ranking system, which ranked Steel Valley at 437, was most likely intended to help schools by addressing needs, but instead hurt the image lower ranking schools.  He noted that the documentaries are important because they can show policy makers the real impact of their policies and become a catalyst for change.

At the end of the night, the Hear Me 101 interns were announced.  The interns were chosen out of those who submitted applications to earn a spot as paid staff members of Hear Me to work on building awareness and support for their films.  The interns are as follows: 

Denis McCormick from Steel Valley, Juanita Suber from McKeesport, and Jeffrey McDonald from Clairton.  

Look for more from the interns this summer.  Hear Me and our partners would like to thank everyone who came out to the screening and everyone who helped make the videos possible!  

Share your pictures and thoughts on the screening:  @hear_me_project #hearme101 

Hear Me Goes to ALEC to Record Student Interviews

This blog was reposted from The Brashear Kids Association Blog, which can be found here:

Hear Me Comes to ALEC to Record Student Interviews

Hear Me, an initiative of the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, came to the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center (ALEC) to record our students' thoughts about the Pittsburgh Police.  ALEC is located next door to the Zone 3 Police Station. Interactions with the police are part of our students' daily lives. 

Through this collaborative campaign with Allies for Children, students from all over the city of Pittsburgh had the opportunity to record their responses to such questions as, "What is the job of a police officer?" and "How would you describe your relationship with police officers?"  Once all the responses are recorded and edited, Hear Me will present them to Mayor William Peduto to help inform the selection of the new Chief of Police.  

Students at ALEC listened to their interviews  and then interviewed one another.  They had such a great time sharing their stories with Jess and Ryan of Hear Me, and we can't wait to share the final edit. 

Hear Me is a collaborative network of community organizations, institutions, businesses and foundations working together to provide a better future for our kids. Through this project, our students have had a chance to share their voice with a wider audience and participate in the democratic process.  To learn more, check out their website.

- Renee

Community Responses to the Hear Me Display at Square Café

The Hear Me display at Square Café has evoked over 60 unique responses from community members since we installed it in May.

The display features rotating stories from a group of passionate students who are committed to improving their education through the F.U.S.E. program, which was started by a Wilkinsburg high school teacher to give students additional learning opportunities outside the classroom. 

F.U.S.E. worked with Hear Me to record the students’ stories and partnered us with Square Café, a local restaurant who is committed to serving the community. The powerful stories and the display have become a topic of discussion in the café.

It currently features a story form Ashley, a 17-year-old Wilkinsburg High School Student, and asks the question: “How can we help students and administrators better understand each other?”


Safety at Wilkinsburg High School  By Ashley, 17

Community responses to Ashley's story:



We update the story and the question every 2 months.  

Previous stories include Sophia's, accompanied by the same question:

(“How can we help students and administrators better understand each other?”)


My neighborhood  By Sophia , 16

Community responses:



and Tatiyana's, along with the question "Who is responsible for the learning environment in schools?" 

My School  By Tatiyana , 17

Community Responses:




To stay up-to-date with Hear Me displays and community responses, follow us on Facebook at

For more information or to learn how you can host a display, please email


Ryan Hoffman Project Coordinator, Hear Me 

Hear Me 101 films premiere!

The first ever Hear Me 101 youth advocacy videos premiered its videos to a crowd of approximately 75 on Sunday July 15 at CCAC. 


Students, friends and families gathered for hors d’oeuvres and conversation to celebrate their achievements.   Guests had a chance to listen to Hear Me 101 stories in CanEx and read up on the projects’ treatments in the lobby and meet some of the young filmmakers from Clairton City High School, McKeesport Area High School, Steel Valley Senior High School, and Woodland Hills High School.


Representatives from the Hear Me project talked about the students’ journey making short documentaries from concept to final cut.  We shared that we learned how warm and hospitable their schools and communities really are and that through the whole Hear Me 101 program, we hope that these students can begin the process of fighting negative stereotypes of their schools.


Steel Valley student Katie Miller introduced her group's topic:  Does where you grow up determine your chances of success?  "This question led to more questions and more questions."  Clairton student Marcaysia Dawkins' group wanted everyone to see that "Clairton always comes together as a big family."




Congratulations to all these young filmmakers!  Films can be seen at hearme_101.

What's new with F.U.S.E??

Meeting the FUSE students was a great experience. They showed me that some people actually care for their neighborhood & schools. In this particular case, the neighborhood was Wilkinsburg. FUSE had a lot of things to bring to the table that I would of never guessed. The individual students are your everyday teens. They speak up for what they feel is right and Hear Me admires that about them. Wilkinsburg High School and neighborhood is really not the best area for most people, but FUSE will not tolerate the feeling of being swept under the rug. They're proud of where they live, and it's not always about moving away from the problem; there's always an alternitive to that. In the eyes of FUSE, they want to stay in Wilkinsburg & work hard to improve their current situation. FUSE shows us that you can always try and make a difference where you live. School budget cuts really wasn't helping the situation of Wilkinsburg High School. The students need something to look forward to, such as extra-curricular activities & field trips. We at Hear Me have always been a stepping stool for voices to be heard, and we have recorded strong stories from the these students. FUSE has been at this for 6 months and already making a major point. The Hear Me crew supports FUSE and everyone in it.

For more information about FUSE, go to

Hear what these students have to say about Wilkinsburg School District at


"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."